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US: UPDATED - 3-year prison sentence for targeting police helicopter

A Massachusetts man was sentenced to three years in federal prison, for the December 8, 2007 illumination of a state police helicopter. The charges included “willfully interfering with an aircraft operator with reckless disregard for human life”, and making false statements to arresting officers.

52-year-old Gerard Sasso aimed a Class 3B green laser, said to be “at least five to ten times more powerful than an ordinary laser pointer” [approximately 25 to 50 milliwatts], at a helicopter that was escorting a liquified natural gas tanker through Boston Harbor. The pilots took evasive action, but the cockpit was hit and filled with “an intense sparkling green light”. The pilots and Coast Guard were able to trace the source to Sasso’s apartment in Medford. He “falsely and repeatedly” told police he was not the perpetrator. However, officers saw a laser pointer and he then admitted lasing the aircraft. Eleven lasers were seized from his apartment.

News reports quoted prosecutors as saying that Sasso was the second person in the U.S. to be convicted of lasing an aircraft. They also pointed to the November 2009 sentence of a California man who received 2.5 years for shining a laser at two airplanes and temporarily blinding a pilot. [This may refer to federal prison sentences, since others in the U.S. have received jail time for laser/aircraft incidents. The Nov. 2009 reference is to Dana Christian Welch.]

Island Crisis and the Boston Herald. Thanks to David Freihofer and Paul Berthot for bringing this to our attention.

UPDATE August 1 2012: Sasso’s case was appealed on grounds that the jury was given incorrect instructions at the January 2010 trial. The jury was told that it was sufficient for them to find that Sasso “willfully” aimed his laser at the helicopter. However Sasso’s public defender argued August 1 2012 in appeals court that Sasso had to willfully know that his actions would interfere with the aircraft operator. Thus, the jury should have been told to determine if Sasso knew the laser could interfere. An updated story is here at LaserPointerSafety.com.