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Cayman: Trial begins for man who pointed laser at police helicopter in 2015

Trial of a Cayman man, charged with multiple counts of aiming a red laser beam at a police helicopter, began September 13 2017. The incident took place on April 29 2015.

Officers on the ground had seen a red laser beam that appeared to be attached to a firearm. The helicopter was sent to investigate. A detective in the helicopter testified that he saw a bright red light which was pointed at the aircraft numerous times. The detective said he was worried for the pilot’s vision, and also that the laser could be attached to a weapon.

He radioed a description of the suspect to ground officers. Based on his appearance, officers approached Javonnie Silburn, then approximately 19 years old. They asked if he had a laser; Silburn said yes and showed them a device that had both an LED light and a red laser beam. He was arrested on a charge of endangering an aircraft.

Later Silburn told police that he did not do it, that it was another man.

Prior to the trial, Silburn attempted to plead guilty to shining the laser at the helicopter one time. But the Crown did not accept the plea due to the multiple times the laser was directed at the aircraft.

The endangerment charge was apparently dropped. Silburn, now 21, is being tried on a charge of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior within the sight or hearing of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.

Under cross-examination on the first day of the trial, the detective admitted he could not say definitely that Silburn was the person with the laser, only that he identified a man with an Afro hairstyle and short pants.

According to the Cayman Compass, there was a separate laser incident in November 2015 involving police aircraft.

From stories in the Cayman Compass by Carol Winker. (August 31 2017 story about trial being set, Sept. 13 2017 story about initial court proceedings, Sept. 14 2017 story about trial being delayed for a few days).

Spain: British father and son face €600,000 fine for aiming laser at multiple aircraft

A 41-year-old British father and his 15-year-old son, who were vacationing in Spain, could be fined up to €600,000 (USD $700,000) for aiming a laser pointer at passenger aircraft approaching Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport.

The incident happened around 11 pm on August 8 2017. An off-duty police officer happened to see the pair on a hotel balcony in Torremolinos, a coastal resort town about 13 miles south of the airport.

British father son laser balcony in Spain
Photo from Spanish police showing laser light coming from a balcony

Two laser pens were seized:

British father son laser pens seized in Spain

Pilots of at least three commercial aircraft had complained about being dazzled with green light as they prepared to land.

While the British father and son were not arrested, Spanish National Police called it a “very serious violation” and said the fine could be from €30,000 to €600,000 (USD $35,000 to $600,000).

From Sky News, the Daily Mail and ITV News

US: North Carolina teen arrested for aiming laser at police helicopter

Around 1 am on August 9 2017, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) Police Department helicopter was targeted by a green laser pointer. The crew spotted a person standing outside a vehicle, holding a laser.

They notified ground officers who located the vehicle, found a laser inside, and arrested 18-year-old Abrahan Saloman Nass Romero, aka Abrahan Nasser. The officers also found marijuana in the vehicle.

Abrahan Saloman Nass Romero laser
Abrahan Saloman Nass Romero


Romero was charged with pointing a laser at an aircraft — a felony — and with possession of marijuana up to one-half ounce. Records show Romero had previously been arrested for marijuana possession, for speeding, and for driving without a license.

Since January 2017 there have been 19 incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration of lasers being pointed at aircraft in the Charlotte area.

From the Charlotte Observer and WSCO TV

US: 12-year-old Portland child said to aim laser at police helicopter numerous times

On July 24 2017, a Portland Police Bureau airplane searching for a stolen car was illuminated several times with a laser. Officers on the ground found a 12-year-old child playing with a laser pointer.

The officers told the child and the child’s family that the laser misuse was hazardous. Officers confiscated the laser and forwarded the police report to the Multnomah County Juvenile Department. Fox 12 reported “the suspect was taken to the Multnomah County juvenile detention center.”

The police sent the following tweet:

Laser 303 12-year-old Portland


This is a close-up of the label:

Laser 303 12-year-old Portland label


From the AP via the
Washington Times, Fox 12 and KATU

Canada: UPDATED - Two laser incidents in two days in P.E.I.; child said to have caused one

On July 15 2017, a green laser beam was pointed at an Air Force search-and-rescue aircraft near Fernwood, Prince Edward Island. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said the laser was aimed at the aircraft for about 15-20 minutes. A pilot was “dazzled” by the light. The crew were later checked by an eye specialist. None of them had serious or lasting vision problems due to the laser.

The next night, a green laser beam was pointed for 5-10 seconds at a commercial aircraft as it was preparing to land in Charlottetown, which is about 60 km east of Fernwood. The beam came from the Brackley Beach area about 15 km northwest of the Charlottetown Airport, at about 11 pm local time. Neither pilot in the WestJet aircraft looked into the light; they were able to land without incident.

RCMP on July 17 asked the public for help in finding the perpetrators of these incidents.

A follow-up news story quoted a former pilot as saying the person responsible should “face justice.” He said it was a “very dangerous thing to have happen to you, and they are so destructive… Make the penalties very severe when they’re caught.”

In Canada, shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense punishable to up to five years in prison and/or up to $100,000.

On July 18, a witness contacted RCMP to say he was on Brackley Beach from 10:00 to 11:30 pm. He said a child of about 10-12 years old was using a laser to point at several things, including two aircraft. He said the child was tracing the path of a plane, but was not trying to shine it in the cockpit.

The child and his or her family is not known. RCMP said charges might not be placed in this case: “It does appear that this specific incident was a child at play and not a direct criminal offence. That being said, the child was in the custodial guardianship of two adults and RCMP are asking that items of this nature not be used for entertainment and not be provided to young children as they are unaware of the danger that they can inflict."

The director general for civil aviation, Aaron McCrorie, said there were 333 reported incidents in 2012, 590 incidents in 2015, and 527 in 2016. He said there was only one reported laser/aircraft incident in PEI in the past five years; it took place in 2015.

McCrorie said there have been no accidents in Canada due to such incidents but there have been some cases of permanent eye damage to pilots.

From CBC News (
initial report, follow-up, witness report, McCrorie quotes) and OHS Canada

Note: LaserPointerSafety reached out to Transport Canada for clarification about McCrorie’s claim of cases of permanent eye damage to pilots, since we are unaware of any such documented cases with civil pilots either in Canada or worldwide. On July 20 2017, we received an email response from Julie Leroux, Communications Advisor, Media Relations, Transport Canada:

“Laser pointers have serious effects that distract and temporarily blind pilots. While Transport Canada has received reports of pilots experiencing eye damage as a result of a laser strike, due to doctor-patient confidentiality, the department is not in a position to provide details about specific cases.

Generally, pilots report suffering from eye irritation or light sensitivity after being struck in the eye by a laser, which could seriously affect their ability to fly safely.

Mr. Aaron McCrorie, Director General, Civil Aviation, was referring to Canadian cases only.”


On July 26 2017, Leroux further clarified via email:

"Mr. Aaron McCrorie, Director General, Civil Aviation, was misquoted in the [CBC News] story you reference. During the interview he stated Transport Canada is aware of incidents that caused temporary damage to pilots’ eyes, but did not refer to a specific case of permanent blinding. Transport Canada is not aware of any cases where a pilot suffered permanent eye damage as the result of a laser strike."

Northern Ireland: Man arrested for aiming at police helicopter

An unnamed man in his 30s was arrested for aiming a laser pen at a Police Service of Northern Ireland in mid-July 2017.

The helicopter was helping the Coastguard trying to locate a lost person, when the laser illumination occurred.

The man was arrested for endangering an aircraft and was released on bail.

From
BelfastLive

US: Georgia man arrested for aiming at police helicopter

A 47-year-old Georgia man was arrested for aiming a laser at a Gwinnett County police helicopter.

On July 5 2017, the helicopter pilots saw green laser light in the cockpit. They were able to trace it to a location in Johns Creek where ground officers arrested Marius Lizunas. He told them he was using a laser rangefinder to “check the range” to the aircraft.

Lizunas was charged with aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.

Marius Lizunas laser
Marius Lizunas


From U.S. News and World Report and WSB-TV

US: FBI looking for source of two July 4 laser illuminations in Cleveland

There have been numerous news reports in Cleveland, Ohio based on the FBI looking for the perpetrators of two laser illuminations. Below is a press release from the Cleveland FBI that describes the incident and the FBI’s search.

Seeking Information Regarding Laser Strikes

Stephen D. Anthony, special agent in charge of the Cleveland Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for the Northern District of Ohio, and Calvin Williams, chief of Cleveland Division of Police, are seeking information regarding two recent laser strikes, one against a Cleveland Division of Police helicopter and one against a MetroHealth Life helicopter.

Both of these laser strikes occurred on July 4, 2017, at approximately 10:15 p.m. from the 3000 block of West 31st Street in Cleveland, Ohio.

The main hazard for aviation is that pilots can be distracted or temporarily flash-blinded by the light from a laser beam. The light often is a large light at aviation distances, unlike the tiny dot a laser makes at close range. Individuals often do not realize that traveling over hundreds of feet a tiny, two-centimeter laser beam spreads to become approximately six feet of light that can block a pilot’s vision. Most laser strike incidents reported occur at flights under 10,000 feet with the highest percentage being altitudes under 6,000 feet.

Laser strikes are investigated by local and federal law enforcement. Under 18 USC 39 (A), whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned. Under 49 USC Section 46301 (a) (5) (A), the FAA may seek a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 per violation for aiming a laser at an aircraft in violation of C.F.R. Section 91.11.

The FBI and our law enforcement partners are asking the public if they have any knowledge of the laser strikes that occurred last week. If anyone has any information please call the Cleveland Division of the FBI at (216) 522-1400. Tips can remain anonymous and reward money is available for the successful identification and prosecution of the individual(s) responsible for these laser strikes.

Any questions regarding this news release can be directed to SA Vicki D. Anderson at the Cleveland Office of the FBI at (216) 522-1400 or vicki.anderson@ic.fbi.gov or Sargent Jennifer Ciaccia at the Cleveland Division of Police at (216) 623-5033.


From an FBI Cleveland news release dated July 12 2017. Here are two typical news reports, from Fox8 and from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Canada: Edmonton woman charged with aiming laser at police helicopter

Sarah Schenker, 28, was said to have repeatedly aimed a laser pointer at an Edmonton Police Service air crew, early on the morning of July 11 2017.

She was arrested and charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight. Schenker faces a maximum jail sentence of five years, and a fine up to $100,000.

A police spokesperson said their helicopters experience about six laser pointer incidents each year. He said “It’s been fairly quiet lately, which is really good.”

From the Edmonton Journal, and RedDeer News Now via the Canadian Press

US: Probation for Tulsa man who lased police helicopter

A man who aimed a green laser beam at a Tusla, Oklahoma police helicopter was sentenced on July 10 2017 to one year of probation, despite sentencing guidelines recommending an 18-24 month prison sentence.

On December 29 2016, Jay Scott Howell aimed the laser 11 times at the helicopter. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on February 7 2017 on one count of aiming the laser. The maximum penalty is up to five years in federal prison and/or up to a $250,000 fine.

Howell pleaded guilty on April 10 2017 to the charge.

While U.S. sentencing guidelines recommended an 18-24 month prison term, the judge sentenced Howell to one year of probation. The judge cited Howell’s age (53), limited criminal history and remorse for his actions. The prosecuting U.S. attorney did not object to the sentence, telling the judge “He’s the perfect candidate. I don’t anticipate ever seeing Mr. Howell again.”

If probation is revoked, Howell could serve up to the maximum sentence of five years.

From the Tulsa World

Germany: UPDATED - Demonstrations at G20 summit target police helicopter

On July 6 2017, two police helicopter pilots were blinded by lasers aimed from the ground, during violent “Welcome to Hell” demonstrations protesting the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Media reports did not indicate how badly the pilots’ vision was affected.

Seventy-four other police officers were injured; one was hospitalized with an eye injury after a firework exploded in his face.

From the Mirror and Reuters

UPDATED JULY 9 2017 - After intensive investigations, German police arrested a 27-year-old Hamburg man “on suspicion of attempted murder”. The unnamed man blinded the two pilots “so badly while they were up in the air that they had to stop working because they couldn’t see.”

From FoxBusiness

US: Oklahoma City teenager arrested for aiming laser at police helicopter

A 19-year-old Oklahoma City teen was arrested June 19 2017 for aiming a green laser beam multiple times at an Oklahoma City Police Department helicopter.

The aircraft was on patrol when it was illuminated around 10:30 pm. The beam was traced to a house. Ground officers arrested Darren Williams.

Darren Williams laser Oklahoma City
Darren Williams


The teen’s father said Darren was unaware that it was illegal to aim a laser at aircraft. “It was an honest mistake. He is really remorseful about it.”

He was charged on both state and federal counts. On the federal charge, he could face up to five years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000.

From News9, Fox25 and KOCO News 5

US and Iran: UPDATED - Iranian naval ship shines laser on US helicopter says U.S.; Iran denies

An Iranian naval vessel aimed a “targeting laser” at a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E helicopter on June 13 2017. This set off the helicopter’s automatic defense system, which fired flare signals.

A group of three U.S. ships — a destroyer, an amphibious assault ship, and a dry cargo ship — were transiting international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, according to a U.S. military statement. The Iranian naval vessel, said by one source to be a missile ship, came within 800 yards of the assault ship and scanned two of the U.S. ships with a spotlight.

The helicopter was flying alongside the deployment when the Iranian targeting laser was aimed at it, setting off the flares.

There was no report of injury to the helicopter pilots. A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said “Illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is dangerous as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles.”

CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter
Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion


From Newsweek and CNN

UPDATED JULY 16 2017 - Iran claimed it did not point a laser at the helicopter. The Tasnim News Agency said “A top commander of Iran’s Navy denied reports that the country’s naval forces had pointed a laser at an airborne US Marine Corps helicopter in the Strait of Hormuz back in June. Commander of Iran's First Naval Zone Admiral Hossein Azad categorically denied reports of such incident.”

The report had no additional details, such as what could have set off the helicopter’s flares as claimed by the initial U.S. report.

From the
Tasnim News Agency and the Tehran Times

Germany: Eight months for 49-year-old who aimed at aircraft and police helicopter

A 49-year-old German man was sentenced May 31 2017 to eight months in prison for aiming a laser at a police helicopter.

In August 2016, several aircraft flying in or out of Berlin Schönefeld Airport reported glare from a laser beam A police helicopter was sent to investigate, and was also hit by laser light.

The unnamed perpetrator later said in court he had not been aiming at anything specific in the night sky, and that he did not see the helicopter.

He was sentenced in Zossen (Brandenburg) District Court; Zossen is about 20 miles south of Berlin.

From Spiegel Online in original German and in Google-translated English. Thanks to Alex Hennig for bringing this to our attention.

US: Community service and fine for Calif. man who aimed laser at police helicopter

A 28-year-old man from Fontana, California was sentenced on May 30 2017 for aiming a laser at an Ontario, California police helicopter.

The incident happened February 21 2015. Asarel Felix Lombera used a $20 green laser pointer to track a police helicopter for about 15 seconds. The light entered the cockpit and momentarily dazed a crew member.

In February 2017 Lombera pleaded guilty. In his plea agreement, he said he was aware that what he did was dangerous and distracting. At sentencing in May, Lombera received a probationary sentence of community service and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

From The Daily Bulletin

US: Three years in 2017 for Kansas City man who aimed laser at police helicopter in 2013

Jordan Clarence Rogers, 26, was sentenced on January 17 2017 to three years in federal prison without parole.

On October 28 2013, Rogers aimed a laser three times at a Kansas City (Missouri) Police Department helicopter. The pilot had “eye strain” for several hours after the incident.

Rogers was indicted on the laser charge on August 26 2014. He pleaded guilty on September 8 2016 to one felony count.

At sentencing, federal prosecutors said that Rogers had an extensive history of criminal activity including drug and property crimes, which should be a factor in a longer 4-year sentence.

Rogers’ attorney said the sentence should be shorter. While Rogers knew it was illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft, “he had no knowledge of the highly scientific manner in which a laser endangers an airplane.”

In a sentencing memorandum, he attorney wrote “The average person would believe that a laser beam hitting an aircraft would cause a small spot to appear on the aircraft or in the cockpit, much like shining a laser beam at a wall. It is not common knowledge that the laser actually increases with size as it extends, and that the glass of the cockpit can expand the light further, causing it to light up the entire cockpit.”

From KY3.com, the Kansas City Star, and an article by Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica with additional links to legal materials.

US: Maryland man hits police helicopter eight times; crew goes to hospital

Connor Grant Brown, 30, was arrested for aiming a green laser pointer about eight times at a Maryland State Police helicopter on January 16 2017. The crew abandoned their mission (looking for a man running barefoot in cold temperatures), and landed. Two of the four persons on board — the pilot and the crew chief — went to Frederick Memorial Hospital for treatment. They were later released but will have to return for follow-up testing. The two men went back to work the following day.

Connor Grant Brown laser Jan 2017
Connor Grant Brown


Brown faces state charges of reckless endangerment, obstructing and hindering, and shining a laser pointer at an aircraft.

According to a trooper who was in the helicopter, the laser had a power of 100 milliwatts. The U.S. limit for laser pointers is 5 milliwatts. [The laser itself is legal, but it is illegal to sell lasers over 5 milliwatts as a “pointer” or for pointing purposes. And of course it is illegal to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft in the U.S.]

The trooper also said “he experienced spots on his vision after the laser hit the helicopter, as if he had just looked at the sun. While most sun spots disappear in a few blinks, the spots from the laser did not. He also experienced minor pain that he described to be similar to windburn.”

The trooper said the helicopter pilot described his vision as “sandy.”

A statement of probable cause described Brown’s explanation to troopers regarding why he aimed the laser at the helicopter.

At about 1 am Brown woke up due to a “buzzing sound.” The unknown aircraft flew over his house “every minute, at some points shaking the windows.” Brown aimed his $20 internet-purchased laser “to signal the operator to stop flying so close to the house.”

After police showed up at his house, “my heart sank in my chest.” He apologized and said he did not mean to cause any harm from his “horrible, horrible mistake… From start to finish, what I did was wrong.”

From CBS Baltimore, Carroll County Times initial story, Carroll County Times follow-up story, and Carroll County Times editorial “Use common sense with laser pointers.” Thanks to Capt. Dan Hewett and Greg Makhov for bringing this to our attention.