A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: Florida man, 52, arrested; helicopter noise bothered him so he aimed a laser at it

A 52-year-old from West Boca, Florida, was arrested July 10 2014 for aiming a laser pointer at a Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office helicopter. The pilots said they had been “disoriented” by the laser light.

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

US: Camp Pendleton Marines ask public to stop lasing their noisy helicopters

Marine helicopters flying out of Camp Pendleton, California have been targeted multiple times by lasers from the nearby community of Fallbrook, in northern San Diego County. In an attempt to stop the lasings, a Marine officer discussed the incidents and the hazards of lasers with a local reporter for the North County Times, on August 7 2012.

Camp Pendleton’s Munn Field is used almost exclusively by helicopters, primarily on training missions. The chopper noise is “a backdrop to daily life in Fallbrook”, writes reporter Tom Pfingsten. He implied that perhaps someone annoyed by the noise is targeting the helicopters.

The air traffic control officer for Munn Field told Pfingsten that the lasers can potentially damage eyes and that pilots may not be able to see in the cockpit, especially when crews are wearing night vision goggles that bloom when hit by laser light.

Pfingsten wrote that “the Marines seem really worried about … losing one of their pilots to a random act of vandalism.” While the base files reports with the FAA and the Fallbrook sheriff, military police cannot be sent to find the laser source. So they are basically “asking nicely” that the public help stop whoever is lasing the military helicopters.

From the North County Times

US: Texas man arrested after aiming at FBI pilot

On June 2 2011, a Southwest Airlines pilot landing at Dallas’s Love Field reported a laser being aimed at the jet. Air traffic controllers warned other pilots. An FBI agent already airborne responded and began searching for the source. The man on the ground aimed his laser pointer at the FBI pilot, who then identified the location and notified ground units.

A 45-year-old Garland man, Sammy Ladymon, was arrested and charged with “illumination of aircraft with intense light”, a Texas state misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 1 year.


Sammy Ladymon


Ladymon’s house (A) is about 14 miles in a straight line from Love Field (B)

The arrest came one day after the Federal Aviation Administration announced it would impose a civil penalty of up to $11,000 on persons lasing an aircraft. There was no immediate word as to whether Ladymon would face the FAA fine or other federal charges as well.

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US: UPDATED - 5 years probation for Florida man

Mark Clay Hazlitt, 59, of Lakeland Florida was sentenced on June 2 2011 to five years probation on federal charges of interfering with the operation of a Polk County Sheriff’s Department helicopter.


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

US: Jurors find spotlight misuser guilty on one charge, not guilty on another

Jurors deliberated for a day in a case where a man aimed a spotlight at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter on September 22 2010. The pilots, who were wearing night-vision goggles, were temporarily blinded by the spotlight. The co-pilot had to remove his goggles and direct the pilot, who was not able to remove his goggles while still piloting the aircraft.

On April 28 2011 the jury found Wayne P. Groen, 42, guilty of incapacitation of an individual during authorized operation of an aircraft. The jury found him not guilty of interfering with the authorized operation of an aircraft. Sentencing was set for August 4 2011.

Groen lives near Lynden, Washington about 1/2 mile south of the U.S.-Canada border. According to the Seattle Times, Groen said he aimed the spotlight at the Border Protection helicopter because he was “curious” about their activities, bothered by the noise, and “wanted to alert the pilots as to how close they were to his home.”


Groen lives on H Street Road, which parallels the U.S.-Canada border

The Bellingham Herald reports that some of Groen’s neighbors have been annoyed by Border Protection activities, such as frequent low-level helicopter flights and vehicles traveling through their yards and fields. They “have been tempted” to spotlight helicopters, and felt that threat of a long prison term (up to 40 years) for Groen was excessive. One man quoted by the paper said he was in an old barn at night when a helicopter hovered overhead and the metal roof began to rattle and shake: “Had I had a good flashlight I would have shined it up at that black object to see what it was.”

From the Seattle Times and the Bellingham Herald. An account of the opening day of the trial, entitled “Light v. helicopter -- who felt threatened most?” can be read after registering at the Lynden Tribune; a cached version is available at Google.

UPDATE August 4 2011: Wayne Groen was sentenced to two months in prison, 90 days of home detention, 120 hours of community service, three years of community supervision, and a $5,000 fine for incapacitating an individual during the authorized operation of an aircraft. Groen could have received up to 20 years in prison. The prosecution recommended 10 months; the defense wanted no prison time, one year of probation, 120 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. From The News Tribune

US: Florida man annoyed at copter shines laser; arrested

A 58-year-old deliberately targeted a Polk County Sheriff’s Office helicopter on Sunday Nov. 21 because he was “tired of hearing it”. The aircraft had been searching for a suicidal suspect. They were forced to break off the search due to the “intense light that disoriented the pilot and a flight observer. It also interfered with night-vision equipment.” The pilot had to leave the area to readjust cockpit equipment, forcing additional units to be allocated to find the suicidal subject.

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.

US: Teen arrested for "shooing" helicopter with laser pointer

An 18-year-old tried to “shoo away” a Sheriff’s Office helicopter with a 6-inch-long “high powered” laser pointer, because the noise was keeping him awake. Deputies soon arrived at Beau Richard Wallace’s home in Palm Harbor, Florida. They arrested him on a felony charge of misusing a laser lighting device, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Wallace said he was “just being stupid” and that he had owned the green laser pointer for only a week before the Dec. 17 incident.

From the St. Petersburg Times

UK: 63-year-old arrested for aiming flashlight (torch)

Torben Merriott, 63, was arrested for shining a flashlight (torch) at an RAF Apache helicopter, after being awakened at 1 am by two gunships which were on a military exercise. The arrest for was "suspicion of endangering an aircraft by dazzling the pilot." He was held for nine hours before being bailed out of jail. The charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail.

Merriott said the gunships sounded like an "earthquake" and were "10 feet above my garden" in his farmhouse near Eye, Suffolk. News reports said he used the flashlight to identify the aircraft, during the September 18 2009 incident.

The flashlight was readily available and cost £8.45 (US $13.86). Merriott owns a theatrical lighting firm that has lit flying helicopters at a Buckingham Palace event. He insists he did not put the aircraft at risk: "Don't tell the Taliban that all they need is an eight-quid torch to bring down multi-million-pound high-tech gunships."

Full story, with photo of Merriott and a torch, from the Daily Mail.

UPDATE: Charges were dropped two days after the incident. Merriott said he was considering making an official complaint:
"I cannot help feeling that to keep me locked up for nine hours is pretty vindictive, when I was happy to make a statement. It was heavy handed and I think they were trying to teach me a lesson."

Update from
EDP24

Australia: Three years jail for aiming laser at helicopter

23-year-old Lanfranco Baldetti has been sentenced to almost three years in jail. He was one of the first Australians to be prosecuted for shining a laser at an aircraft.

The South Australian pleaded guilty to prejudicing the safe operation of an aircraft. Judge David Smith described Baldetti's actions as a disaster in the making, and sentenced him to two years and 10 months jail, with a non-parole period of 10 months.
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US: Sheriffs raid home to seach for laser pointers

Contending with a nationwide surge in the number of laser incidents disrupting the piloted skies, the Sheriff's Office and the FBI came down hard on 22-year-old Thomas Kiefer and his family. After identifying the house on Dillman Road west of West Palm Beach, they arrived with a search warrant and assault rifles that the family says were pointed at them as agents tossed through drawers and closets in search of lasers. They confiscated 10 lasers.

Kiefer, 22, spent the night in jail and faces a third-degree felony.

Kiefer and his parents, Thomas and Kathleen, were taken by surprise. They said they weren't given a chance to read the search warrant and were forced outside as agents searched the house, threw their belongings on the floor and kicked in the door to Kiefer's room, while his mother stood out back shouting, "Don't break the door down, I have the key."Click to read more...