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Originally published Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 5:12 PM

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Whatcom County man convicted of incapacitating Border Patrol pilot

A Whatcom County man was found guilty Thursday of incapacitating the pilot of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter by pointing a spotlight at the aircraft in September.

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A Whatcom County man was found guilty Thursday of incapacitating the pilot of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter by pointing a spotlight at the aircraft in September.

Jurors in U.S. District Court in Seattle deliberated for about a day before finding Wayne P. Groen, 42, of Lynden, guilty of incapacitation of an individual during authorized operation of an aircraft. Jurors found him not guilty of one count of interfering with the authorized operation of an aircraft.

Groen admitted shining a spotlight into the cabin of the low-flying helicopter but said he was simply curious about what was going on and wanted to alert the pilots as to how close they were to his home.

Federal prosecutors alleged in the trial that began on Monday that Groen recklessly and intentionally endangered the lives of the pilot and co-pilot when he shined the spotlight on the Blackhawk for several minutes.

According to court documents, the helicopter crew was tracking illegal border crossings at 9:35 p.m. on Sept. 22 when Groen trained his spotlight on them. Groen's attorney said the helicopter was about 600 feet above his home.

Court documents allege that the spotlight temporarily blinded the two pilots, who were wearing night-vision goggles, and forced them to abort their mission.

Groen's attorneys have said in court documents that the pilots exaggerated the danger.

According to federal prosecutors, Groen was driving on his street with his headlights out and clad only in underwear when he was confronted by federal agents a short time later.

Groen told investigators that he had been trying to sleep and wanted to let the pilots know they were bothering him, according to court documents.

Groen is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 4.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.

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