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US: UPDATED - Convicted laser offender apologizes, saying he lost everything for three seconds of aiming laser at helicopter
According to an FBI press release, Barry Lee Bowser Jr., then 51 years old, aimed “the beam of a laser at Air-1, a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter that was providing support to ground units responding to a man armed with a gun. At trial, the evidence established that the mission was diverted when the pilot of Air-1 was struck by direct hits from a powerful green laser that illuminated the cockpit and tracked the aircraft near the approach path to Meadows Field Airport. The laser strikes caused the pilot to experience flash blindness, eye discomfort, and pain that lasted several hours. In imposing sentence on September 28 2015, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill found that Bowser had obstructed justice before trial by concealing the laser and providing false statements to law enforcement and at trial through his false testimony about the offense.”
On September 23 2016, Bowser wrote to apologize, and to describe how his life had been ruined:
I'm writing this letter to apologize to the community of Bakersfield and to the Kern County Sheriff's Department —especially to the flight crew of KCSO Air One, piloted by Deputy Austin.
I was convicted of one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft and sentenced to 24 months in a federal penitentiary, then 36 more months of supervised release for a total of 60 months — five years — plus ordered to pay a special assessment fee of $10,000. I am very lucky the pilot was an expert and highly skilled at piloting the helicopter.
I also want to educate anyone who owns a laser and might be inclined to use it the way I did: Learn from my mistake. I am now just getting out of prison. I have paid dearly, for I have lost my girlfriend, my dog, my home, my vehicle. Everything I owned, everything I have worked for 30 years of my life, is gone.
For shining a laser at a helicopter for three seconds, I lost my entire life. I am now 54 years old and I have no one and nothing but the clothes I was given when I was released from prison.
From Bakersfield.com. Original LaserPointerSafety.com story about Bowser is here. There is a small discrepancy; the FBI said Bowser’s sentence was 21 months while Bowser stated it was 24 months.
UPDATED December 20 2016 — An extensive profile of Barry Bowser’s laser pointer incident, trial, and his life before and after his arrest, was published by Ars Technica. The 4,000 word article by editor Cyrus Farivar describes a convicted criminal and meth addict who said he was trying to go straight and clean.
On the evening of September 11 2014 he was bored and found a laser pointer which had been given to him as a dog toy. The dog soon tired of playing so Bowser aimed at a billboard, and two radio towers before he hit something in the sky — the Sheriff’s Office helicopter. When police arrived, Bowser told them was testing the laser’s capabilities. During his trial in federal court, the case hinged on Bowser’s intent. (The applicable federal law states “Whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft … shall be fined … or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.)
Prosecutor Karen Escobar said the lasing was done knowingly: “[Y]our common sense tells you there was an aiming because there were direct hits of the aircraft, and there was more than one strike.” Bowser’s public defender said there was no intent — Bowser had not meant to aim a laser pointer at a helicopter. After 4.5 hours of deliberation, Bowser was found guilty.
As stated in Bowser’s September 23 2016 letter, the conviction and jail time was ruinous: “For shining a laser at a helicopter for three seconds, I lost my entire life.”
Farivar’s profile is one of the few in-depth examinations of a laser pointer arrest, conviction and aftermath. His article also links to an annotated transcript of day 1 and of day 2 of Bowser’s trial, and annotated related court documents. Farivar has previously reported a number of stories about laser pointer misuse for Ars Technica.
The incident occurred on June 20 2016, when the helicopter pilot had to take evasive action to avoid the green beam. Another crew member guided ground officers to the laser perpetrator, where Peralez was arrested.
The helicopter crew radioed ground officers, who arrested Mark A. Geohagan, 55, of Ocala. He told officers it was “not a laser” but a laser comb. Geohagan said he was testing the distance the light could reach, and that he meant no harm. Geohagan was charged a few hours later with pointing a laser light at a driver or pilot.
Mark A. Geohagan. His middle name was variously reported as “Allen” or “Albert”
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The Bosley LaserComb Elite used by Geohagan has nine red 650nm laser diodes arranged in a line, that normally are directed towards a person’s scalp. When aimed into space, it produces a single, “extremely bright” spot of light as described in more detail after the “Read More…” link below.
From the Ocala StarBanner and Orlando Sentinel. Thanks to Chuck Maricle, Ph.D., for background information on hair comb products. For additional description and analysis of laser combs, click the “read more…” link.
US: UPDATED Two California men arrested for aiming laser at plane, 1 also charged with drug possession
The evening before, a pilot was temporarily disoriented by a green laser at about 9:18 pm while landing at Tehachapi Airport. The pilot reported the laser illumination to police. A Tehachapi Police Department officer arrived and was flown around the area by the pilot. The plane was again targeted. The source, a residence, was identified. The plane landed again, and police went to get a warrant to search the residence.
A few hours later, at 3:20 am, police served the search warrant. They found the laser device along with a half pound of methamphetamine worth $20,000, cash totaling $1,400, scales and drug paraphernalia, and an 8 mm Mauser rifle and ammunition.
Arrested were Daniel Roy Mahler, 47, and Mario Guillermo Manero, 52. Both were charged with discharging a laser at an occupied aircraft. In addition, Mahler was charged with possession of controlled substance for sales, and maintaining a drug house.
UPDATED April 13 2015: In February 2015, Manero pleaded no contest. [The penalty, if any, was not stated in the news story.] He was arrested again in April 2015 for possession of child pornography, found during a firearms compliance check. A search warrant was obtained and several items were seized to try and identify potential victims. From the Bakersfield Californian.
Case 1: Johnny Alexander Quenga, 28, of Fresno
On March 5 2015, the Fresno Police Department helicopter Air 1 was illuminated by green laser light about six times over ten minutes. One crew member, who had been illuminated by lasers numerous times in the past, suffered temporary flashblindness, afterimages, a headache lasting several hours requiring pain medication, and dizziness. He said the beam was much brighter than in his past experience. The pilot had a momentary loss of night vision, and flew a wide orbit to avoid the beam. The pilot directed ground officers to the location.
However, a patrol car on the way to the suspect’s home was broadsided at an intersection by a Toyota 4Runner. The Jaws of Life were needed to rescue one of the officers. Both officers in the car were treated at a hospital for serious injuries. The officer driving was knocked unconscious, had upper body and leg injuries, and some chipped teeth. The passenger officer had a broken leg and a fracture in his back that may require surgery. (The 4Runner driver and passenger suffered minor injuries.)
The Fresno Police Department car that was broadsided on the way to arrest a man who aimed a laser pointer at an FPD helicopter. Two officers were seriously injured. Photo from YourCentralValley.com.
When officers finally reached Quenga’s home, they found he was listening to police department radio traffic. He said “he could hear everything the officers were saying and knew they were looking for him and [he] had possibly hidden the laser.” Quenga claimed the laser beam came from a house behind him. He further said he worked as a security guard and knew he could lose his job for misuse of a laser.
The suspect, realizing he had been spotted, took off in his car — with the laser. However, ground officers caught Polson at the entrance to his subdivision and took him to jail, where he was charged with misusing a laser device which is a felony, and for opposing a police officer during an arrest which is a misdemeanor.
According to the Tampa Tribune, in September 2013 Polson sent an email to the newspaper saying he had been harassed for several years by law enforcement helicopters and aircraft. He said the harassment occurred daily but “made no sense” because he is “no threat to anyone.”
From ABC Action News WFTS Tampa Bay and the Tampa Tribune
On the evening of March 9, the Federal Aviation Administration notified the New York Police Department aviation department that someone was pointing laser beams at aircraft landing and taking off from LaGuardia Airport. A helicopter was dispatched to try and “draw fire.” Nothing happened for about 20 minutes, until the helicopter flew a path similar to an aircraft landing approach. On the second pass, a laser was aimed at the helicopter.
Both pilots were hit. Said one, “You feel a strong tingle in your eyes. You have a burnt spot where you can’t see. It is very dangerous for any pilot to be blinded.”
Ground officers went to the apartment of Frank Egan, 36. His mother invited the officers inside, where they found a device labeled “Laser 303.” According to police, Egan admitted using the laser pointer. He said it was purchased for $50 in an Orlando shop while on vacation.
He was charged with assault on a police officer, felony assault, menacing a police officer, reckless endangerment, and criminal possession of a weapon.
The next day, March 10, Egan told reporters that he did not aim the beam and that he was sleeping at the time of the incident.
From NBC 4 New York, the New York Post and the New York Times
UPDATED March 14 2015: Frank Egan’s roommate and brother-in-law, Elehecer Balaguer, 54, claimed that he was the one using the laser pointer. According to the New York Times, Balaguer swore an oath in New York State Supreme Court on March 13 2015 that he, not Egan, was responsible: “Frank had nothing to do with it. I was the one that did it. It was just a kid thing. It was a stupid thing to do.” Balaguer first denied aiming at aircraft, then after being asked two more times, confessed “I pointed it at the plane, yes, thinking it was a …” and his voice trailed off. He then said “But I didn’t mean to hurt anybody.” According to Egan’s lawyer, Egan never told the police he used the laser, contrary to the police statement after Egan’s arrest. From the New York Times. A related article in the New York Times published March 12 2015 was entitled “Powerful Lasers Easy to Buy, Experts Say.” The New York Post called the laser “military-grade” and said it had been purchased while on vacation in Orlando.
Elehecer Balaguer in court
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UPDATED March 17 2015: Balaguer was charged on March 16 2015 in federal court with aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. This has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. FAA officials said they had to redirect traffic in and out of LaGuardia on March 9 to avoid going over the Bronx, where Balaguer and Egan lived. Balaguer’s attorney said the suspect “uses methadone every day and takes medication for bipolar disorder”, and that he was “harmless”: “It was stupidity, not venality.” From the Wall Street Journal.
UPDATED May 5 2015: Balauger pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. He could face up to five years in prison. The judge said sentencing guidelines call for between 2 and 2 1/2 years. He said sentencing of Balauger would not be routine “Given his psychiatric history, given his apparent lack of any wrongful intent, I can see one set of arguments being made; on the other hand I can see a different set of arguments because of the danger presented,” said the judge. Sentencing was scheduled for September 9 2015. According to the New York Post, Balauger is a disabled ex-heroin dealer who has a history of schizophrenia and left school after ninth grade. From CBS New York, the New York Post, and the New York Times.
James McDonald told arresting officers that the noise had been bothering him. He apologized, saying that he did not know that pointing a laser at an aircraft was illegal.
He was charged with pointing a laser light at a pilot, which is a third-degree felony in Florida.
From the Sun Sentinel
At about 11:30 pm on April 19 2014, Peter Allan McArthur of Parmelia aimed a green laser numerous times at a police helicopter. Ground officers found McArthur with two handheld lasers; he told the officers that he aimed at the aircraft “to see what happens”.
During trial, the police prosecutor said McArthur should face a jail sentence due to the potential hazard.
According to his lawyer, McArthur’s laser misuse “could have had serious consequences but he did not intend for anything like that to happen. He did not intend danger.”
The judge let McArthur off with the $2500 fine, plus $147 in court costs and his lasers would be destroyed. She said she took into account that McArthur pleaded guilty and had a minimal record.
From In My Community
Authorities did not have any additional details about the charge, or about who actually pointed the laser at the aircraft.
From the Toledo Blade
UPDATED - August 28 2014: Deal was sentenced on August 25 2014 to one month in prison followed by two years of probation, for the charge fof making a false statement or representation to a department or agency of the United States. From the Toledo Blade
On May 20 2013, the helicopter was sent to investigate a shooting. As it hovered over Luton, a green laser beam dazzled the crew of three, leading to evasive action by the pilot. Officers on the ground traced the beam to 53-year-old James McIvor, a PCSO with British Transport Police. (A PCSO is a civilian member of police staff who is a uniformed non-warranted officer.)
James McIvor, PCSO, British Transport Police
McIvor told officers he had been using a laser pen to attract his elderly cat that was on top of his garage.
McIvor was convicted in December 2013 of acting in a negligent manner to endanger the safety of an aircraft. He was acquitted of a more serious charge of recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft.
From BBC News and Wikipedia’s PCSO page
On December 28 2013, an aircraft landing at Southwest Florida International Airport, in South Fort Myers on the west coast of Florida, reported a laser incident. A Lee County Sheriff’s Office helicopter was sent to investigate. It was illuminated by a laser from a residence in Cape Coral, Fl.
Ground officers found Stephen Clyde Plock, 51, and two children at the residence. Plock initially denied knowledge of the laser but eventually admitted that he saw the plane and helicopter and aimed the laser into the sky.
The Lexington, Kentucky man was sentenced to 12 months in jail; 30 days will be served while the remaining 11 months will be probated for two years. He is also required to complete 100 hours of community service, and to forfeit his gun and laser.
French avoided federal criminal prosecution (with a potential penalty of up to 5 years in prison and up to $250,000 fine) by pleading guilty in state court. He still may face civil fines imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
From Lex18.com and Kentucky.com. The original LaserPointerSafety.com story of his August 13 2013 arrest is here.
UPDATED August 26 2013: WKYT interviewed the helicopter pilot, Sgt. Scott May. He told the station he was “shocked” when he heard the laser was attached to a loaded 9mm pistol. He said “When you combine the two elements of laser and gun, it’s quite alarming to us…. Now, the next time this happens, we’ve got to step back and say, ‘Is there a gun attached to this laser.’ “ From WKYT
UPDATED September 10 2013: French pleaded guilty on September 4 2013. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail; 30 days will be served while the remaining 11 months will be probated for two years. He is also required to complete 100 hours of community service, and to forfeit his gun and laser. Additional details are here.
- 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.
Video from a CHP airborne camera shows the green beam at an instant of maximum intensity. The bright/dark line is an artifact from the camera sensor being oversaturated.
Switching to a high-resolution infrared camera moments later, the suspect can be clearly seen (white dot in center, just to the left of a house).
The CHP aircraft had been searching for the source of laser beams aimed at airplanes flying over Lodi, when they were repeatedly illuminated by a green beam. By switching between a color camera that captured the beam, and a high-resolution infrared camera that showed a suspect, ground units were able to move in on the suspect.
Charles Brill, 52, was arrested and charged with one state felony charge of willfully discharging a laser at an aircraft. Federal charges could also be filed under the new law signed Feb. 14 2012 by President Obama, according to a police spokesperson.
Brill told the arresting officer that the reason he pointed the laser at the aircraft was that "he liked watching the green color light and seeing how it sparkled.” The arrest report also said that Brill wanted "to use (the laser) as a reference point and see how far the laser beam could travel."
From KCRA.com and ABC News10.net. A News10.net news report video is here; the raw video from the CHP helicopter is here as well as at the KCRA page.
The three will be arraigned in court on January 9.
There had been concern over local airspace due to a January 8 political event at Free State Stadium with over 100,000 persons in attendance. The laser incident appears to be unrelated to a temporary Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) requiring general aviation and recreation pilots to file flight plans in advance.
From The New Age. According to a separate story in The New Age, this was only the second time that arrests have been made in South Africa for aiming lasers at aircraft. The first was in May 2010 during a World Cup event.
Five years probation
The judge ruled that Hazlitt’s laser pointer was not a “dangerous weapon” under the circumstances of the case. This finding helped reduce the severity of Hazlitt’s sentence. He could have received up to 20 years in prison for the November 21 2010 green laser pointer illumination, which occurred because he was “tired of hearing” the helicopter.
According to The Ledger, Hazlitt said at the sentencing that “his actions last year [were] the result of ‘very bad judgment.’” He has started a website, laserawareness.us, in order to apologize and to publicize the hazards and potential penalties of laser pointer misuse.
LaserPointerSafety.com carried a story about the original Lakeland laser incident here.
From NewsChief.com and The Ledger
The judge called Gautieri a “liar” for claiming that he was using the laser to follow stars.
Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey said “Let the sentencing today send a message that this behavior will not be tolerated.” U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said “As a direct result of his reckless and irresponsible behavior, the defendant will now have several years to think about how he endangered public safety by shining a laser into a helicopter pilot's eyes.”
From NBC Philadelphia, CBS Philly and an FBI press release
Hazlett will be sentenced at a later date.
From The Ledger
UPDATE, JUNE 2 2011: Hazlitt was sentenced to five years probation on the federal charge. He said the incident was “very bad judgment.” Update from The Ledger.
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.]
From 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.
Mark Clay Hazlitt was arrested and charged under Florida law with Misuse of Laser Lighting Device, a third-degree felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Sheriff Grady Judd said “Mr. Hazlitt deliberately interfered with a search in which deputies were trying to locate a man who said he was going to take his life. The laser used was strong enough to disrupt night vision devices thus creating a very real danger to our air unit crew. He deliberately placed the lives of our pilot and flight observer in jeopardy, as well as those on the ground had the helicopter crashed. Hazlitt's behavior was reckless and his actions felonious. We will not tolerate anyone placing the lives of our deputies or residents in danger."
The suicidal subject was later located and was placed in protective custody.
From the Orlando Sentinel via Sun-Sentinel.com
Thanks to Tony Zmorenski for bringing this to our attention.
UPDATE #1, MARCH 18 2011: In January 2011, a grand jury indicted Hazlitt on a more serious U.S. federal charge of interfering with the operation of an aircraft. The penalty can be up to 20 years in prison. On March 18 2011, Hazlitt pleaded guilty to this federal charge. Sentencing was scheduled for later. Update from The Ledger
UPDATE #2, JUNE 2 2011: Hazlitt was sentenced to five years probation on the federal charge. The judge said the laser pointer was not a “dangerous weapon”. Hazlitt said the incident was “very bad judgment,” and has started a website, laserawareness.us, to publicize the dangers of pointer misuse. Update #2 from The Ledger.
The indictment alleges that on August 30, 2010, Liebman struck a CHP Cessna 206 multiple times with a powerful green laser while it was flying .
This case is the product of a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the California Highway Patrol, and Federal Air Marshals with the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Assistant United States Attorney Jean M. Hobler is prosecuting the case.
If convicted, Liebman faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
From a U.S. Department of Justice press release