A Talbot County man made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court this morning after he allegedly shot at and damaged a Georgia State Patrol helicopter Wednesday.
James Fryer, 59, has been charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with destruction of an aircraft. He has pleaded not guilty, according to his court-appointed attorney, David Helmick.
"Mr. Fryer is presumed innocent until the government proves him to be guilty beyond any reasonable doubt,” Helmick said.
In an affidavit attached to the criminal complaint against Fryer, an FBI agent says that Fryer admitted to firing three rounds from a shotgun into the air while a helicopter was overhead, but denies that he ever aimed the weapon at the aircraft.
Bearded, with shoulder-length salt-and-pepper hair and dressed in Muscogee County Jail issued clothing, he stood handcuffed before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles this morning. He was accompanied Helmick.
Hyles explained the charges against Fryer and advised him of his constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent. Then Hyles set a preliminary hearing for 11 a.m. Monday in his courtroom.
The patrol helicopter was in Talbot County on Wednesday as part of the Georgia Governor's Marijuana Eradication Task Force.
According to the FBI affidavit, on Wednesday, Georgia State Patrol Sgt. Wayne Wiley was piloting a Bell helicopter with Trooper Mark Bracewell serving as observer when Bracewell heard three gunshots. At the time, the pair was conducting surveillance at or near Fryer’s house.
Bracewell said he looked down and saw a while male who appeared to be aiming something at the aircraft. He reported this to Wiley, who turned quickly to get out of the line of fire, according to the affidavit.
Wiley landed the helicopter while Bracewell reported the incident to ground units. After the landing, Wiley and Bracewell found damage to both of the helicopter’s main rotors.
Ground units then responded to Fryer’s residence, where he initially denied firing at the helicopter. Officers recovered the shotgun and found several spent shells and detected the fresh odor of gunpowder in the driveway area.
Talbot County Sheriff’s deputies then arrested James Fryer, the affidavit states.
Fryer later admitted to firing a shotgun into the air three times when a helicopter was nearby, but denied aiming at the helicopter, according to the affidavit.
He said he raises valuable poultry on his land and that the helicopter’s noise was making his poultry “highly agitated,” which in turn “enraged” him. He said he went back into his house, got his Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun, when back outside and fired the three rounds into the air.
Fryer’s wife, Linda Fryer, told law enforcement that the helicopter’s noise awakened her and that then she saw her husband come back into the house, get his shotgun from a gun rack in their bedroom, take and leave. Shortly afterward, she heard multiple gunshots.
The felony charge of destruction of an aircraft carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and can include fines.
The affidavit also states that officers found “two bags of leafy plant material, believed to be marijuana (approximately less than 10 ounces each).”
Stephanie Pedersen contributed to this report