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Pilot Who Blocked Robbery Suspect With Helicopter Cleared Of Wrongdoing

February 11, 1988

DENVER (AP) _ A helicopter pilot who swooped down in front of a pickup truck to block a robbery suspect’s escape did not endanger people on the ground, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Mike Silva, pilot of the KCNC-TV helicopter, did not violate flight procedures Tuesday when he used his chopper to block a prison escapee who had run over and killed a police officer, the FAA said.

His action allowed police to surround the man, who was shot death by officers. A hostage was freed unharmed.

The television station’s footage of the chase and shootout was broadcast on network television Tuesday night, and police and the hostage both praised Silva, 37, for his quick response.

Bob Bennett, FAA coordinator in Seattle, said federal investigators on Wednesday interviewed Silva and reviewed unedited film before deciding the Vietnam War chopper pilot and former police officer had not violated flight procedures.

Robert Shelton, manager of the FAA’s Flight Standards Office in Denver, said complaints that Silva’s actions had endangered the public spurred the investigation. He would not say who filed the complaints or go into detail about them.

The FBI identified the dead man as Phillip L. Hutchinson, 24, originally of Arlington, Va. Hutchinson was serving a life sentence for aggravated robbery when he escaped July 31 with another inmate, the Texas Department of Corrections said.

Hutchinson’s record included kidnapping, two prison escapes and desertion from the Marine Corps, authorities said. They also were investigating his possible involvement in four other bank robberies in the Denver area.

Tuesday’s chase began when Hutchinson robbed a credit union office in northwest Denver. He was spotted by police a block from the office and chased for the next 20 minutes. Silva, in the air for another assignment, spotted the commotion and followed as cameraman Jim Stair photographed the scene.

Detective Robert Wallis, 51, was killed when Hutchinsonn Laurienti, 73, of Denver in the driveway of his home and forced Laurienti to drive him away.

Silva finally landed the station’s Bell JetRanger helicopter in front of Laurienti’s pickup truck in a parking lot. A police car rammed the passenger side of the truck moments later, and officers jumped out of their cruisers and began shooting.

Laurienti was yanked from the truck, and officers killed Hutchinson.

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