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Thu, Aug 18, 2005

Arrest Made In Police Helo Shoot-Down

Suspect: Former Marine Wounded In Afghanistan

Aero-News Senior Editor Pete Combs has been investigating the use of firearms against aircraft. Click here to listen to the story.

A 29-year old former USMC marksmanship instructor has been arrested in the August 6th shoot-down of a Bernalillo County Sheriff's helicopter in Albuquerque.

Jason Kerns, who told police he was a "sniper" and that he saw the entire incident late that night, is being held on $1.8 million bond.

He was arrested late Monday, charged with assault with intent to commit a violent felony on a peace officer, criminal damage to property and tampering with evidence, according to a warrant obtained by the Albuquerque Journal. Police, however, said they suspected Kerns for some time.

As ANN reported last week, the Hughes 369 Sky Knight was orbiting a crime scene when pilot Chris Holland heard a loud bang -- "the loudest bang he ever heard," according to Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White. Both Holland, a civilian contract pilot, and Deputy Ward Pfefferle, were hit by shrapnel as the bullet entered the plexiglass bubble canopy, struck an anti-torque pedal, fragmented and bounced around the cockpit. Even though he was wounded, Holland was able to auto-rotate from approximately 400 feet, landing hard in the backyard of a west Albuquerque residence.

White praised Holland as a hero. The pilot continues to suffer from a severe cut to his leg.

The Sky Knight helicopter was destroyed.

Law officers say they were approached by Kerns at the crash scene. He said he saw the whole thing and heard a gunshot just before the helo went down.

He also said that he became very annoyed at the helicopter as it orbited near his home. Deputies said Kerns told them he would have been able to "make the shot" without a problem -- even given the distance -- and that the helicopter "was a great target."

Even that night, investigators said, Kerns story wasn't "solid and was misleading." For instance, no one else in the neighborhood heard the shot. And even though Kerns couldn't have seen the crash site from his home, he drove directly to it immediately after the Hughes went down. While he had military training that would have allowed him to pinpoint the shot he said he heard, Kerns was unable to do so, according to investigators.

Detectives searched Kerns' home the night of the crash, then again three days later. In the meantime, they said, they tailed Kerns. When he spotted deputies following him, Kerns tried to elude them by driving his Corvette at more than 100 miles an hour.

As they searched Kerns' house a second time, Bernalillo County deputies and the FBI reportedly found a 30-06 rifle, a silencer and, inside a trash can, a spent shell casing wrapped in masking tape. Further, the ammunition found in Kerns house matched bullet fragments taken from both the helicopter's cockpit and Holland's leg.

FMI: www.bernco.gov/live/departments.asp?dept=2318

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