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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.

US: UPDATED - Bakersfield man indicted for lasing police helicopter and possessing seven bombs

A Bakersfield (Calif.) man was indicted July 16 2015 by a federal grand jury for aiming a green laser pointer at a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter. The device was key-activated and was labeled “Laser 301.” He faces up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

Pablo Cesar Sahagun, 26, was also charged with possessing seven “cricket bombs,” made by filling an empty CO2 cartridge with gunpowder or flash powder, and attaching a fuse. If convicted, Sahagun would face an additional ten years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.

From the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of California press release dated July 21 2015

UPDATED - April 18 2016: Sahagun was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He had pleaded guilty on January 11 2016. From Bakersfield.com

US: UPDATED Two California men arrested for aiming laser at plane, 1 also charged with drug possession

Two men from Tehachapi, California (about 35 miles southeast of Bakersfield) were arrested May 5 2014 for aiming a laser at an aircraft. In addition, drugs were found at the residence where the laser came from.

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.

From Tehachapinews.com

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.

US: UPDATED - Two Calif. men indicted for separate laser-pointing incidents on helicopters

On March 26 2015, a federal grand jury indicted two California men for aiming green laser beams at law enforcement helicopters. In both cases, the air crews involved experienced vision difficulties.

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.)

Pic 2015-04-11 at 12.49.13 PM
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.

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US: Search for laser leads to arrests on drug and other charges

A search for the persons who aimed a laser at a sheriff's helicopter on March 8 2014 has led to the arrest of two Bakersfield (Calif.) men on drug and other charges. The arrests were announced March 16 2014 by a joint laser strike task force consisting of the FBI, Bakersfield police, and Kern County deputies.

Timothy Wilson, 46, was arrested on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance and of narcotics paraphernalia, and resisting or delaying arrest. Patrick Florez, 45, was arrested on suspicion of stolen property and false license plate tabs.

The strike force confiscated a stolen motorcycle, quantities of methamphetamine, and narcotics-related material, paraphernalia and a scale.

No laser was found and the investigation is continuing.

From the Bakersfield Californian

US: Time served - 7 months - for Bakersfield CA man

A Bakersfield (CA) man was sentenced to time served, for aiming a green laser at a Kern County Sheriff’s Office helicopter. Jeffrey Lee Gentry, 33, had been in jail seven months. At his January 9 2012 sentencing he was also ordered to be on probation for one year. Gentry could have received a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 20 years in prison.

During the November 6 2010 incident, the helicopter was flying 500 feet above the ground when hit four times by the laser beam. The pilot said he had spots in his eyes for a few seconds. They were disoriented and were forced off course, according to a March 3 2011 press release from the U.S. District Attorney’s office in Fresno.

From Bakersfield.com, KERN radio and Bakersfield Now