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US: Jury deadlocked on case of laser aimed at police helicopter

A San Diego Superior Court jury could not agree to convict Robert Louis Silva, Jr. on a felony charge of discharging a laser at an occupied aircraft.

On March 20 2018 a police helicopter was illuminated by a purple laser beam for about one minute. The pilot had eye irritation and put on night vision goggles. Silva, 33, was located on Fiesta Island and was arrested.

At trial, Silva told the jury he thought he was aiming at a drone piloted by a friend, and stopped when he realized he was instead aiming at a helicopter.

Prosecutors pointed out the difference between the helicopter and a drone, saying "He knew what he was doing. It was intentional. He didn't think he'd get found."

Silva's attorney noted that the helicopter was four miles away and thus looked smaller. She said "malicious intent" was required to convict, and that Silva did not have any intent to harm. She said "he profusely and repeatedly apologized" to police during his arrest, and that police did not go to look for the drone operator.

The jury deadlocked after four hours of deliberation on January 16 2019. Nine jurors voted to acquit and the remaining three jurors voted to convict.

The judge declared a mistrial and ordered Silva to return in late January to schedule dates for a possible re-trial. Silva remains free on $25,000 bond.

From sdnews.com

UK: (Not a laser) Drone slices toddler's eye in half

Oscar Webb, a toddler around 17 months old, had his eye lacerated by the propeller from a neighbor’s drone. After numerous operations, his eye was not able to be saved by doctors. The boy will eventually be fitted with a prosthetic eye.

The accident happened in mid-October, in Stouerport, North Westchestershire. Simon Evans, next door neighbor to the family, had prior experience operating drones. Oscar was in his family’s front yard when after about 60 seconds of flight, Evans’ drone hit a tree, went out of control, and sliced through the toddler’s eye. The BBC quoted his mother, Amy Roberts, as saying “What I saw was what I thought was the bottom half of his eye, and it's the worst thing I've ever seen."

From the Telegraph and Ars Technica

Analysis and commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com


Although this severe accident did not involve lasers, there are some comparisons and contrasts with consumer laser pointer eye injuries. In almost all cases, a consumer laser injury does not cause complete loss of vision. It certainly does not result in exterior damage or destruction of the entire eyeball. On the other hand, drone injuries are rare, with only a few cases of persons being injured by falling drones. This is the only drone eye injury we are aware of, while there are a number of laser pointer eye injuries, some of which are in lists here and here.

US, Canada: Aircraft have close calls with drone UAVs (not a laser incident)

On July 1 2014,, there were two close calls between small, unmanned, remote-controlled aerial vehicles (UAVs) and human-carrying aircraft. [Although these are not laser incidents, we are mentioning them here as they are harbingers of another potential aircraft hazard.]

  • In Vancouver, the pilot of a K.D. Air Corporation airplane reported a near-miss with a UAV when taking off from Vancouver International Airport. Investigators were searching to find the person responsible. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesperson said this was not the first case, and they have investigated several complaints of model aircraft flying near the airport. According to the Vancouver Sun, he also said that “lasers pointed at police helicopters and other aircraft are equally troubling and there are few regulations prohibiting the use of either device in such situations.”

  • In New York City, a UAV described as a “drone” flying near the George Washington Bridge came within 800 feet of a police helicopter. The UAV was at about 2,000 feet altitude, which is above the 400 foot limit set by the Federal Aviation Administration for model aircraft used for recreation. The helicopter pilot was able to track the drone as it landed. Officers on the ground arrested Wilkins Mendoza, 34, and Remy Castro, 23, and charged them with reckless endangerment.

From the Vancouver Sun (drone only story; drone + laser story) and the New York Times