Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Man Accused of Shooting Down Copter Former Marine Marksman
By Felicia Fonseca/
A man accused of shooting down a sheriff's helicopter is a former Marine marksman who said he witnessed the crash and bragged to investigators that it would be no problem for him to "make that shot,'' according to sheriff's records released Tuesday.
Jason Kerns, 29, was arrested late Monday. He faces charges of assault with intent to commit a violent felony upon an officer, criminal damage to property and tampering with evidence in the Aug. 6 shooting.
Bernalillo County authorities said they recovered several firearms from Kerns' home, including a rifle they believe was involved in the shooting, along with boxes of ammunition.
Pilot Chris Holland, a veteran of both Gulf wars, and sheriff's deputy Ward Pfefferle were in the copter when it went down. Pfefferle said he heard a gun shot just before the crash.
Kerns is a former lance corporal honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in November 2001, authorities said. His main job was as a helicopter airframe mechanic but he also worked as a marksmanship instructor, according to sheriff's records.
Kerns told investigators the night the copter went down that he had been watching it hover low above a nearby golf course.
"I hate to say this but I was getting annoyed by the sound of the chopper because it was there so long,'' Kerns allegedly told investigators. He said he watched for a few more minutes then heard a "pop noise'' and saw the copter crash.
Investigators questioned several people in the neighborhood and later went to Kerns residence. There, they found "multiple Marine Corps manuals and additional military literature,'' along with empty military style "ammo cans'' scattered around the property, according to records.
In an Aug. 8 interview, Kerns allegedly told an investigator who remarked that it would be difficult to shoot down a copter from a certain distance that he would be able "'to make that shot' at that distance with 'no problem.'''
In arresting Kerns, authorities also said they found inconsistencies in his story, including details on where he claimed he heard gunfire coming from just before the copter was downed.
The sheriff's department said federal charges might also be filed in the case, but that it had not made its way to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"The detectives and FBI agents have been working around the clock,'' Sheriff Darren White said early Tuesday. "This arrest is the result of just incredible police work, and we're very pleased.''
White said Kerns was arrested without incident after he pulled into his driveway just after 10 p.m. Monday. He was being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center on a $1.8 million cash-only bond.
Trajectory tests determined a bullet struck the helicopter's left pedal, one of the pedals that controls the craft. Had the bullet not hit the pedal, authorities have said it would have struck the pilot in the chest.
Holland suffered shrapnel wounds on his legs, hands and face, including a serious laceration to his left leg and has had surgery. Pfefferle, a nine-year veteran of the force, suffered minor injuries.
White said the two were lucky, but that the road to recovery for Holland would be long.
"He still has a considerable amount of shrapnel in his leg,'' the sheriff said.
Holland, 43, and Pfefferle, 51, were helping deputies on the ground who were investigating a burglary call when the chopper lost power. It went from 400 feet to the ground in four seconds after Holland initiated what's called an autorotation.
The helicopter, which landed about 15 feet from the back wall of a house, was destroyed in the crash.