‘Enraged’ birthday boy arrested for shooting at sheriff’s helicopter after party blowup

Police say the man had been drinking before trying to shoot at the helicopter

Michelle Del Rey
Tuesday 11 June 2024 16:15
Seattle helicopter crash

A Southern California man repeatedly fired a rifle at a law enforcement helicopter after his birthday party came to a sour end earlier this year, police say.

Justin Derek Jennings, 39, of Laguna Niguel, was indicted by a federal grand jury for attempting to damage, destroy or disable an aircraft on March 9. The man had been drinking and became angry, according to court documents from the case.

As the episode escalated, people at the party, including family members, left to go home. Once the majority of the guests left, police say the man took out a rifle from his gun safe and fired an entire magazine worth of ammunition inside the residence.

The remainder of the guests ran from the area and contacted authorities about the incident. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene with several deputies and a police helicopter.

A helicopter involved in the search for hikers near Lake Havasu City. A man in Laguna Niguel, California is in custody after attempting to shoot at an Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopter
A helicopter involved in the search for hikers near Lake Havasu City. A man in Laguna Niguel, California is in custody after attempting to shoot at an Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopter (Mohave County Sheriff’s Office / Facebook)

After Jennings noticed the helicopter circling around the home, he went to the second story and began shooting a rifle into the sky. He fired when the helicopter was visible to him. Federal prosecutors said the shooting continued for about 20 minutes.

Jennings later spoke with an Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy, left the home and surrendered. Police entered the residence and found two revolvers, two handguns, two rifles and multiple rounds of ammunition, investigators said.

Bullet casings were seen on the floor and officials also took a box of ammunition that sat on a couch and beneath the window where the man allegedly tried to fire.

If convicted, Jennings could face 20 years in federal prison. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office previously charged Jennings in connection with the incident but the case was dismissed so the federal case could be filed.

Officials arraigned Jennings in the US District Court in Santa Ana on Monday afternoon, where he pleaded not guilty to the change.

A federal magistrate judge ordered that he be jailed without bond and his trial date is scheduled for August 5.

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