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On May 18 2012, Michael Brandon Smith, then 35 years old, aimed a green laser beam at a St. Louis Metro Air Support helicopter that was investigating a burglary. The beam illuminated the cockpit several times. The vision of the pilot and observer was affected; the observer later said he had short-term vision problems. Ground units arrested Smith -- still with the laser in his hand -- at his residence in O’Fallon, Missouri. The incident diverted the helicopter from the burglary investigation.
Smith pleaded guilty in federal court in November 2012 to one felony count of aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft.
From STLtoday.com and The Republic. The story was originally briefly reported in LaserPointerSafety.com.
A photo shows the beam aimed by Daniel Dangler
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On July 18 2012, a photographer in the helicopter saw the cockpit light up with a green light. He told the pilot not to look towards the beam. The beam location was identified and police officers on the ground questioned Dangler. According to prosecutors, Dangler said he didn’t realize the beam would harm anyone or that it was a crime.
He pleaded guilty on October 17 2012 and was sentenced April 10 2013.
The FAA has a separate civil case pending which could result in a fine of up to $11,000.
Philly.com reported that Dangler is “an unemployed high-school dropout with convictions for burglary, driving under the influence and marijuana possession.” The news source also quoted the photographer, Alasdair Nugent, as saying “It is almost the same as pointing a gun at a person.”
From MyFoxPhilly.com, Philly.com, Philly.com more detailed story, and CBSlocal.com. Note: MyFoxPhilly identified the helicopter as “SkyFOX”, Philly.com called it “Fox29” while CBSlocal identified it as “Chopper 3 HD”. From news coverage, it appears to be the same helicopter.
For the text of the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, click the “Read More…” link.
One of the defendants’ lawyers said the charges were overkill. KGET reported that David Torres, attorney for Brett Lee Scott, said “The penalty in the federal system with respect to this particular crime, doesn't fit at all. And, I think that when you look historically as to why this particular crime was enacted, it was enacted because of folks like Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and folks that have these laser-guided missiles, things of that nature, where they didn't want folks pointing guided lasers up in the air, things of that nature. But, here you have teenagers doing this from time to time or other individuals who are unaware of what the law is.”
- Brett Lee Scott, 25, of Bakersfield CA. Alleged to have flashblinded sheriff’s office helicopter pilots for “minutes”, and causing disorientation. The laser strikes came over a 3-month period.
- Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, aka Javier Rodrigues, 26, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, both of Clovis CA. Alleged to have deliberately targeted a medical helicopter from the Children’s Hospital Central California, as well as a police helicopter sent to investigate.
- Charles Conrad Mahaffey, 22, of Clovis CA. Alleged to have aimed a red laser at a sheriff’s office helicopter, causing a law enforcement mission to be called off.
Additional details are in a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, reprinted below (click the “Read More…” link).
From KGET and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California
UPDATED November 4 2013: Charles Conrad Mahaffey pleaded guilty to the federal charge. He will be sentenced on January 27 2014.
UPDATED December 20 2013: Sergio Patrick Rodriguez was found guilty of attempting to interfere with a police helicopter. He and his girlfriend Jennifer Lorraine Coleman were also found guilty of aiming a laser pointer at the police helicopter. They will be sentenced March 10 2014.
UPDATED May 12 2014: Jennifer Lorraine Coleman was sentenced to two years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Brett Lee Scott pleaded guilty and will be sentenced July 21 2014. From the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California
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- Two counts of interference with flight crew (20 years maximum penalty for each count)
- Two counts of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft (5 years maximum penalty for each count)
- Two counts of assaulting, resisting or impeding federal officers (25 years maximum penalty for each count)
The Virginian-Pilot reported that Bruce aimed lasers at the jets “more than a dozen times” since December 2011. He was annoyed by the their noise. The two counts of assaulting federal officers may be related to Bruce calling the air station to threaten to shoot at the noisy aircraft.
According to a press release, “it is believed that the Eastern District of Virginia is the second jurisdiction to indict” using the new Federal law passed February 14 2012, making it a criminal offense to aim a laser pointer at or near an aircraft.
From the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, PilotOnline.com, and WAVY.com
UPDATE July 31 2012: Bruce pleaded guilty to one count of interfering with the operation of an aircraft. The other five counts were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea. Bruce will be sentenced October 19 2012. He could receive up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Pilots testified that they saw lasers at least 10 times from the area of Bruce’s house between December 29 2011 and June 5 2012. One of the pilots lased by Bruce reported that direct eye exposure was painful, distracted her during landing, and gave her a headache. A spokesperson for Oceana Naval Air Station said that, of 18 laser incidents in Virginia Beach since December 2011, 12 of the incidents were due to Bruce. There were 12 incidents total in 2011. From the Virginian-Pilot.
Paresi, 20, faces university judicial board hearings with penalties that could include expulsion. He was also charged by University of Pittsburgh police with two felony counts of “causing or risking a catastrophe.” Finally, an FAA spokesperson said they will pursue civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.
On July 17 2011, at midnight and again at 3 am, medical evacuation helicopters reported seeing green beams coming from the University’s “Cathedral of Learning” skyscraper. Police confronted a group of students leaving the building after the second laser incident. Parisi, 20, spoke privately to an officer and said that he was the one who had been using a laser pointer.
Parisi was also found to have a fake Virginia driver’s license. He was additionally charged by the police with carrying a false identification card.
The 42-story Cathedral of Learning is the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere. Photo by Flickr user bombnomnom (Anthony Velázquez) under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
UPDATED February 28 2012: Parisi is awaiting trial on two state felony counts of “risking a catastrophe”. He could be fined up to $15,000 and receive up to seven years in prison on each charge. In addition, he faces $11,000 in fines from the FAA on each count. His attorney was quoted as saying “My client is a good kid. He just made a mistake. He obviously regrets anything that happened that night.” From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
On February 19 2009, Joshua Don Park allegedly pointed a green laser beam two times at the Apache helicopter as it was flying over the Bluffdale area, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. Pilot Ken Samson said “It was strong enough that it illuminated my window, but not the entire cabin.” According to Samson, the laser was brighter than a laser pen, but was not a “military grade” laser.
The air crew notified the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office of the approximate location. A deputy went door to door. When they encountered Park, the 30-year-old said he had a laser pointer to play with his cats. Park admitted that he had shined a laser at the aircraft.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Park “believed that the helicopter was way too far away for it to make an impact or even see [sic]”
Park was charged on March 11 2009 with one count of interference with the operation of an aircraft. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
From KSL.com (Feb 25 arrest report, March 11 charge) and Deseret News
UPDATED - August 31 2017: A National Guard pilot told the South Valley Journal that Park committed suicide shortly before he could be sentenced. Park died September 17 2009, according to a September 20 obituary in the Deseret News which included this photo:
The South Valley Journal article implied that Park’s suicide was linked to the laser incident, and that it changed how the National Guard reacted to laser incidents. The article stated “Since that sobering incident, no Utah National Guard pilots have reported lasing incidents to the FBI—but not for lack of occurrences.”