Police Praise TV Copter Pilot for Role in Capture

United Press International

A TV news helicopter pilot was praised by police Wednesday for his role in capturing an armed robber who killed an officer, and a preliminary Federal Aviation Administration investigation cleared the pilot of any safety violations.

The pilot, Mike Silva, 37, a Vietnam veteran and former police officer, was "in the right place at the right time. He really, really assisted us in this situation," Police Chief Aristedes Zavaras said of the pursuit Tuesday.

However, FAA spokesman Bob Shelton said questions were raised that Silva may have been flying unsafely when he swooped down in front of a pickup truck the suspect had stolen.

The suspect, an escaped inmate holding an elderly man hostage, was killed by police gunfire when they closed in on him and the hostage was rescued.

The FAA received no formal complaint against Silva, and its office in Seattle said in a statement: "After investigating the incident, we believe there does not appear to have been a violation of any federal regulations."

Police identified the suspect as Phillip L. Hutchinson, 24, of Arlington, Va.

Silva and cameraman Jim Stair of KCNC-TV were flying over North Denver on an assignment when the station told them to cover a police chase.

Police said the armed man had robbed the Rio Grande Operating Credit Union office and fled in a car. Police pursued him in a chase at speeds up to 60 m.p.h.

Robert Wallis, 51, a detective, was killed when he was hit by the suspect's car as he tried to stop the vehicle by blocking the road.

The suspect's vehicle crashed into a tree four blocks later, and Silva buzzed the armed man as he ran through an apartment complex.

At a mobile home park, the gunman abducted John Laurienti, 73, and ordered the man to drive him in his pickup truck.

Silva said he was afraid police did not know the robber was trying to flee in the truck, so he swooped low and hovered over the truck as it pulled into a shopping center parking lot. The truck stopped, and Silva landed in front of it. Officers then opened fire on the truck, killing the suspect.

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