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US: UPDATED - Convicted laser offender apologizes, saying he lost everything for three seconds of aiming laser at helicopter

A Bakersfield, California man wrote a public letter of apology, stating that he “paid dearly” for aiming a laser pointer on September 11 2014 that caused eye pain for a Kern County Sheriff’s Office helicopter pilot.

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.

UK: 2 Bedford teens sentenced in lasing of helicopter

Two Bedford-area teenagers were given a 12-month referral order for a November 12 2011 incident in which they aimed a green laser pen at a police helicopter “to see how far it would reach.” The pilot partially lost his vision during the incident, which caused the flight to break off from its patrol mission. Ground officers arrested a 13- and a 17-year-old.

The prosecutor said if tried as adults, the two could have served a 1-year sentence. In addition to the 12-month referral, the youths were told to write an apology letter to the pilot, were fined £85 in court costs, and had their laser pen destroyed.

From Bedfordshire On Sunday

US: Ohio man gets 2 days; says he did not understand laser's effect

25-year-old Timothy Lyman pleaded guilty to an October 20 2010 incident where he aimed a laser at a Columbus Ohio police helicopter, temporarily blinding the pilot and co-pilot.

When arrested, he admitted to his actions and handed the laser pointer to police. He had originally been charged with a felony (interfering with the operation of an aircraft with a laser), but on March 16 2011 he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, attempted interfering with operation of an aircraft. He told the court “I really do apologize for what happened. I didn't understand (that) what I did would have that effect."

Lyman was sentenced to the two days he served in jail after his arrest.

From the Columbus Dispatch

UK: Teenager apologizes to helicopter crew

A 17-year-old from South East Wales who shined a laser pen at a police helicopter in July 2009, has apologized in person to the crew. The youth, identified only as "Dennis" visited the crew as part of a "restorative justice programme" to show the implications of his actions.

The pilot was quoted as saying "Dennis has learned how dangerous this type of incident can be, and I hope that others will understand the same lesson."

Full story, with photo of the meeting, from
BBC News