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SALT LAKE CITY — The helicopter pilot flying a patient to a hospital last year recalled the green light swallowing his field of vision just as he learned that another plane was nearby.
Kevin Horn said Thursday in federal court that he had to ask a nurse onboard to take a break from rendering aid in order to scan the sky.
"We had traffic pop up and all the sudden, we got hit by a green laser. It kind of distracted us from flying," Horn said.
He described how the laser once again hit his helicopter near Echo Reservoir as he returned from the hospital to Rock Springs, Wyoming, in the early hours of Aug. 28, 2017.
The incident also had a lasting effect on Michael Ray Kane, the 26-year-old carpenter from Coalville convicted of aiming the laser at the chopper, a federal felony.
Kane was ordered Thursday to serve three years of probation. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball handed down the sentence moments after the pilot described how night-vision goggles intensified the beam, but he did not sustain any permanent damage that would threaten his livelihood.
"There's no question this is serious conduct and could have ended in a disaster," Kimball said, noting the impact that could have been even greater if the laser pointer had been directed at a commercial airline.
Prosecutors had sought a heftier penalty of six months in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Kennedy said a prison sentence would send a strong message as similar incidents crop up around the country.
"This is a rampant offense," Kennedy said, not an innocent prank.
Kane declined to address the judge. As part of a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty in March in exchange for a recommendation he serve a lesser sentence than the possible five-year prison term and $250,000 fine that the offense carries.
"He shouldn't have done what he did but he did it," said defense attorney Clark Donaldson, noting his client had cooperated with investigators.
Kane has come to realize that what he did was dangerous, Donaldson said, and has matured with the birth of his baby daughter. Kane only once broke a nighttime curfew imposed by the court as a pretrial condition, Donaldson said, so that he could stay in the hospital while his fiancée had a cesarean section overnight.
The girl appeared in court Thursday with family members in a pink headband and babbled at times during the hearing.
"They're bonded," Donaldson said of the child and her father. He added that the conviction is significant for Kane, because he lives in a rural community where hunting is popular but he isn't allowed to have a gun.
Kane has a prior criminal record.
He was convicted last year of driving with a controlled substance, a class B misdemeanor, and he has a 2011 conviction of attempted unlawful possession of a credit card, a class A misdemeanor. Those cases were mostly tied to his marijuana use, Donaldson said, "and he stopped doing that."
The judge acknowledged a felony conviction such as Kane's "is a horrible burden" and warned Kane that if he violates the terms of his probation, he will go to prison.
"I'm satisfied that you're finally growing up," Kimball continued, "but I'm telling you, do not get in any more trouble."
The judge also ordered Kane to periodic drug testing and barred him from possessing a laser pointer during the three years of probation.