Jerry Foster, the former Channel 12 helicopter pilot and weather forecaster, is famous statewide for his flamboyant flying, daring live-at-five rescues, numerous appearances with Valley schoolchildren and an occasional brush with the Federal Aviation Administration.
In the Maricopa County process servers' office, though, he's famous only for his bad attitude.
It apparently erupted last week when Robin Groves tried to serve routine legal papers on Foster at his Cave Creek home.
"At first he was nice," says Groves, "but when he found out who I was, he went crazy, calling me a son of a bitch and yelling that if I didn't get out of there right away, he was going to blow my head off."
Groves, a solid, athletic six-footer, tells New Times Foster pushed him with both hands, throwing him to the ground and injuring an elbow and a knee. Groves says his doctor tells him he may have nerve damage in the elbow, and four days after the incident two of his fingers remained numb.
According to a Maricopa County sheriff's report on the incident, Foster then said, "I bet you would like to kick my ass," and stuck his chin out for Groves to hit him before warning that Groves had "thirty seconds to get off (the) property."
The report says that Foster, fifty, grabbed the subpoena papers from Groves and re-entered his house. Groves drove his car off Foster's property and called for sheriff's deputies. While he was waiting, Groves says, Foster came back outside and threatened to turn his Doberman loose.
"Man, my job is tough enough without some clown like this making it tougher," Groves says. "He assaulted an officer of the court, and assault charges should be filed." The case has been forwarded to the County Attorney's Office, where a decision will be made on whether to charge Foster.
Repeated attempts to contact Foster were unsuccessful.
James Carroll, the attorney who subpoenaed Foster, says he merely wants to take the retired pilot's deposition on what he saw immediately following a motor vehicle accident in May 1987. "I don't know why he refuses to do this; it's really not that big of a deal," Carroll says, adding that Foster has already ignored two prior orders.
"I've heard so many things about this dude," Carroll says. "Maybe he's just bitter about the world or something."
Viewed as an aerial savior by some and as an incurable hot dog by others, Foster and his Sky-12 copter, once dubbed the "KPNX Chopper of Mercy" by Newsweek magazine, whirled around the state for nearly two decades, fishing an errant tourist out of a flooded river here, helping police chase down an escaped criminal there, and building Foster a reputation as one of the country's most noted TV helicopter jockeys in the process.
But during his turbulent flying career, Foster was occasionally the target of aviation authorities, who accused him of recklessness and aerial grandstanding. Foster was cited at least five times for FAA infractions, including harassing bald eagles and violating instructions from air-traffic controllers.
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Foster nearly lost his flying license in 1985, when he buzzed a small plane that he thought might have been involved in a Chino Valley bank robbery. Foster chased the plane to a Casa Grande home, where police and sheriff's deputies were called in to surround the residence. They detained the pilot, Richard Herdegen, and his family at gunpoint until it was determined Herdegen wasn't involved in the robbery.
The FAA investigated Foster for flying too close to Herdegen's plane and for hovering so low over the man's property that his rotor blades destroyed a flock of exotic birds the family had been raising.
Foster was also investigated by police when a small amount of marijuana tumbled out of his helicopter onto a field during a public appearance. Foster claimed he had found the marijuana and planned to turn it over to authorities.