A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: 37 months for aiming a laser at two news helicopters while stopped in traffic

Damien Wade Conley, 33
Chesnee, South Carolina, US


Conley was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison on November 4 2014. On November 20 2013, he pointed a laser at two news helicopters that were covering an accident; Conley was stuck in traffic at the time.

US: One year in prison for aiming a laser at a California Highway Patrol airplane

Andrew Zarate, 20
Fresno, California, US


Zarate was sentenced November 3 2014 to one year in prison and two years of supervised release, for aiming a laser at a California Highway Patrol aircraft. He could have received five years and a $250,000 fine for illuminating Air 43 up to 50 times with a “powerful green laser pointer” according to the FBI.

During the incident, the pilot suffered temporary blindness and Air 43 was forced to break away from a burglary in progress at a Fresno middle school.

Zarate’s co-defendent, David Walter Fee, was sentenced in September 2014 to 18 months in prison.

UK: £415 in fines for London-area man who lased police helicopter

Arkadiusz Wozniewski, 32
New Malden, London, UK


Wozniewski was sentenced October 14 2014 for aiming a laser pen at a London Metropolitan Police helicopter. He was fined £300, plus he had to pay a victim surcharge of £30 and court costs of £85 (total £415 or U.S. $666).

On July 19 2014, helicopter “India 99” was trying to locate 10 people walking across rooftops. Wozniewski aimed a laser pen at the aircraft. This caused the search to be called off.

Wozniewski pleaded guilty in Wimbledon Magistrates Court on October 8 2014.

US: Eight years, suspended, for Ohio lasing of a TV helicopter

Nicholas Vecchiarelli, 46
Hubbard, Ohio, US


Nicholas Vecchiarelli laser

Vecchiarelli was sentenced on October 2 2014 to probation for five years, has to do 200 hours of community service, must write an apology to his victims, has to pay a $1,000 fine, has an 11 pm curfew, and must stay out of liquor establishments. If he violates his probation, he could go to prison for eight years.

Vecchiarelli was arrested for aiming a laser at a news helicopter that was filming an October 11 2013 football game at Hubbard (Ohio) High School. The cameraman told police the laser light entered his eyes. He was able to direct police to the laser location, about 1 mile southeast of the stadium.

US: Two years in prison for Texas man who lased police helicopter

Gabriel Soza Ruedas Jr., 25
Austin, Texas, US


Gabriel Soza Ruedas laser

Ruedas was sentenced October 2 2014 to two years in federal prison, with an additional three years probation after his release. On July 7 2014, he had pleaded guilty to one count of pointing a laser at an aircraft.

On February 15 2014, Ruedas aimed a laser at an Austin police department helicopter coming in to land at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The pilot was distracted, but was able to relay the laser’s location to ground officers who arrested Ruedas.

US: 18 months in prison for aiming a laser at a California Highway Patrol airplane

David Walter Fee, 22
Fresno, California, US


Fee was sentenced September 29 2014 to 18 months in prison, plus two years of supervised release, for aiming a laser at a California Highway Patrol aircraft. He could have received five years and a $250,000 fine for illuminating Air 43 up to 50 times with a “powerful green laser pointer” according to the FBI.

During the incident, the pilot suffered temporary blindness and Air 43 was forced to break away from a burglary in progress at a Fresno middle school.

Zarate’s co-defendent, Andrew Zarate, was sentenced November 3 2014 to one year in prison.

US: Two years for two-time laser offender in Las Vegas area

James David Zipf, 30
Henderson, Nevada, US


Zipf was sentenced to two years in prison on September 23 2014, for lasing police helicopters. He was also ordered to undergo mental health and substance abuse treatment.

On January 30 2014, Zipf aimed a blue laser four times at a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department helicopter, from the second story window of his house. On February 3 2014 he twice aimed the laser at a LVMPD helicopter. In June 2014, Zipf pleaded guilty to one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. He was sentenced under the February 2012 U.S. federal law making it illegal to point a laser at an aircraft, or the flight path of an aircraft.

Zipf has been convicted in 2011 in Phoenix of pointing a blue laser at a police helicopter. It is not known what fine or sentence, if any, came out of the 2011 conviction.

Australia: $10,000 fine and court costs for Mandurah man

Raymond Alexander Moore, 40
Mandurah, Western Australia


Moore was fined AUS $10,000 (USD $9,093) on September 19 2014, for continually aiming a green laser beam at a police helicopter.

On August 25 2014, he was walking his dog and playing with the laser pointer when he decided to aim it at a helicopter overhead. His lawyer said Moore “didn’t think it would hit or reach the aircraft.” The pilot took evasive action and was “distressed” throughout the incident. When arrested, Moore told police his actions were “stupid” and he was an “idiot.”

He could have been jailed for up to three years, and fined up to $36,000. The sentencing judge said Moore was lucky to not be jailed, given that “the risk of damage was huge.”

UK: 12 month community order for Manchester-area man also found with drugs

James Hunt, 27
Farnworth, Bolton, Greater Manchester, UK


Hunt was sentenced September 10 2014. He was given a community order for 12 months, a supervision order, was fined £20, was ordered to pay a £60 victim surcharge, and he had his laser pen and cannabis forfeited.

On May 23 2014, he aimed a laser pen from his bedroom window at a police helicopter. The laser strike caused the helicopter to abandon a search for a missing person, in order to determine Hunt’s location. In August, Hunt pleaded guilty to acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, and to possession of cannabis.

UK: 16 and 12 week sentences for Birmingham-area men

Claudio Bruno, 48
Bloxwich, West Midlands, UK
Carl Keates, 23
Walsall, West Midlands, UK


On September 2 2014, Bruno was sentenced to 16 weeks in jail, and Keates was sentenced to 12 weeks, for aiming at a West Midlands police helicopter for about 25 minutes in a “repeated and prolonged attack”. Both men pleaded guilty to recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft.

US: Ohio man gets one month in prison, two years probation for lying about laser incident

Ronald E. Deal, Sr, 57
McComb, Ohio, US


Deal was sentenced on August 25 2014 to one month in prison followed by two years of probation. He had pleaded guilty to making a false statement or representation to a department or agency of the United States.

Between August 5 and 9 2012, he told investigators he did not know about a June 17 2012 incident where a laser pointer was aimed at an aircraft, and that he later falsely took the blame for the incident.

UK: £385 in fines and court costs for Rotherham man

Ben Roe, 23
Rotherham, South Yorkshire, UK


Roe was fined £300, plus ordered to pay £85 in court costs, in late August 2014, after he pleaded guilty to aiming a laser light at a national police helicopter. His laser pen was also seized.

In the July 28 2014 incident, Roe was said to have been attempting to distract the pilot.

UK: 12 months probation, 120 hours community service, £145 in fines for Nottinghamshire area woman

Leanne Martin, 20
Bircotes, Nottinghamshire, UK


Martin was sentenced August 14 2014 to 12 months of community order (probation/supervision) and 120 hours unpaid work, £85 in court costs, and a £60 victim surcharge. On January 28 2014, she aimed a laser pen about three times at a police helicopter flying over Bircotes -- even though her boyfriend told her not to aim at the aircraft. Her lawyer said Martin did not realize the laser’s power, had not read the label, and did not understand the hazard.

US: Two years probation, 50 hours community service for Florida man

Michael Fischer, 26
Wellington (Palm Beach area), Florida, US

Michael Fischer laser

Fischer was sentenced July 29 2014 to two years probation and 50 hours of community service, for the December 30, 2012 lasing of a commercial jet and the sheriff’s helicopter that was sent to investigate. After his sentence, he told LaserPointerSafety that aiming at the aircraft was “the worst mistake of my life. Now I am a convicted felon.” His warning for others was “Don’t think you’re not going to get caught, because if you do it you’re going to get caught.”

Australia: $2500 fine, $147 court costs, lasers destroyed for 51-year-old man

Peter Allan McArthur, 51
Parmelia, Perth, Western Australia


McArthur was sentenced on July 8 2014 to AUS $2500 in fines (USD $2350), $147 in court costs, and had two lasers destroyed. He had earlier pleaded guilty to aiming a green laser multiple times at a police helicopter. Prosecutors wanted a jail sentence, but the judge took into account McArthur’s guilty plea and his minimal record.

Scotland: 240 hours of community service for ADHD man who lased police helicopter, 8 weeks before copter crashed into pub

Grant Jones, 24
Edinburgh, Scotland

Grant Jones laser

Jones was sentenced to 240 hours of community service on June 2 2014, for aiming a green laser beam at a Police Scotland helicopter.

The incident occurred on October 1 2013. The helicopter pilot turned the craft away from the beam, to avoid the light. Other crew used infrared cameras to track the perpetrator and direct ground officers to his location. The officers found a laser pen in the possession of Grant Jones, 24, and arrested him.

Jones avoided jail time “because his actions were linked to his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”, according to an Edinburgh Evening Times news story.

The same helicopter crashed into a pub in Glasgow on November 29 2013, killing all three on board plus seven persons on the ground. There is no linkage between Jones’ laser illumination and the crash 60 days later, which was caused by both engines flaming out.

New Zealand: Alcohol treatment, community service & probation for man who lased police helicopter

Kristian Larsen, 44
Auckland, New Zealand


On May 30 2014, Larsen was sentenced to alcohol treatment, 100 hours of community service, and 12 months probation after being convicted of endangering transport. On December 1 2013, the pilot of the Eagle police helicopter was momentarily blinded and, a day later, had a headache after being exposed to blue light from Larsen’s laser. At sentencing, the judge called Larsen’s actions a “drunken escapade.” Larsen said he regretted his actions: “We all make mistakes, and this was mine to make.”

US: Two years for 24-year-old woman

Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 24
Clovis, California, US


In the summer of 2012, Coleman and her then-boyfriend, Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, 26, were arrested for repeatedly aiming a green laser at a Fresno Police Department helicopter. It had been called out to investigate an earlier illumination of a children’s hospital medical helicopter. On May 12 2014, Coleman was sentenced to two years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, for aiming a laser pointer at a law enforcement aircraft. Rodriguez had earlier been sentenced to 14 years in prison: eight for the laser incident and an additional six due to his prior criminal record.

UPDATED October 29 2016: Coleman’s sentence was revoked after review by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. She received five years probation instead. From Courthouse News Service

UK: Five months, suspended, for aiming at police helicopter

Gavin Hoskins, 26
Bristol, UK


On March 19 2014, Hoskins was sentenced to five months in jail, suspended for two years, plus he must do 200 hours of community service within 12 months. On January 20 2014, Hoskins aimed a laser pen at a National Police Air Service helicopter, to see if the beam could reach the aircraft. He said the lasing was “stupid” and was not done deliberately.

US: UPDATED: 14 -- no, 5 -- years for California man, due in part to past criminal record (overturned June 2015)

Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, 26
Clovis, California, US

Sergio Patrick Rodriguez laser
In the summer of 2012, Rodriguez and his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, were arrested for repeatedly aiming a green laser at a Fresno Police Department helicopter. It had been called out to investigate an earlier illumination of a children’s hospital medical helicopter. On December 20 2013, Rodriguez was found guilty of interfering with an aircraft (penalty up to 20 years in prison) and of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft (penalty up to 5 years in prison). Coleman was also found guilty of aiming a laser pointer. On March 10 2014, Rodriguez was sentenced to 14 years in prison. On May 12 2014, Coleman was sentenced to two years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release.

This is by far the longest sentence anywhere in the world for a laser/aircraft incident (see here for sentences of 37-48 months and here for sentences over 4 years). Rodriguez’s extensive past criminal record was a key factor helping to increase the length of the sentence; the judge called him a “walking crime spree.”

UPDATED June 24 2015: The 14-year sentence was overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The judges did uphold Rodriguez’s conviction for aiming a laser pointer at a helicopter, saying this conviction “is designed for knuckleheads like him.” This conviction carried a 5-year sentence.

But they overturned Rodriguez’s conviction — and his subsequent 14-year sentence — for willfully attempting to interfere with the safe operation of an aircraft in reckless disregard for human safety. The court noted that the second conviction "is designed for both the Osama bin Ladens of the world - people trying to bring down a plane, intending to cause harm - and those who are aware that their actions are dangerous and could harm others, but just don't care…. The failure to recognize this distinction is to fail to appreciate that Congress saw fit to create two different crimes, one more serious than the other, for two different types of offenders.”

Judge Barry Silverman, writing for the panel, said that Rodriguez's intentionally shining the laser at the helicopter "is not, in and of itself, sufficient to allow a rational factfinder to conclude that Rodriguez acted with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life.” Silverman also wrote that “….the evidence showed that he was attempting to see how far his laser would go at night – a stupid thing to do, yes, but there is no evidence that he was trying to interfere with the pilot.”

UPDATED November 4 2016: Rodriguez appealed the June 2015 5-year sentence. On October 17 2016, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 5-year sentence. In an unpublished, unanimous opinion, a three-judge panel found the sentence was reasonable, even though advisory guidelines call for a sentence of only 21 to 27 months (1.75 to 2.25 years).

This was due to a number of factors: 1) “Rodriguez increased the dangerousness of the offense by striking the helicopter six or seven times,”, 2) minor children were involved, 3) he had a criminal history including gang involvement and 4) he was on probation when the laser illuminations occurred. From Ars Technica, Pasadena News Now and Courthouse News Service

UK: £300 fine, plus £115 for Nottingham area man who lased police helicopter

Craig Mather, 22
Carlton, Nottinghamshire, East Midlands, UK


On February 18 2014, Mather was fined £300 after admitting to directing or shining a light at a police helicopter, so as to dazzle or distract the pilot. The charge stemmed from a January 26 2014 incident where Mather aimed at the aircraft because “the helicopter annoyed him, as it was always above his house, and wanted it to go away. He said he didn't know how far the laser went.” In addition to the £300 fine, Mather was also ordered to pay £85 in costs and a £30 victim surcharge.

US: Two years probation for Tucson man who lased sheriff's plane

Jack Downey, 24
Tucson, Arizona, US


On February 12 2014, Downey was sentenced to two years suspended probation in federal court, for aiming a laser pointer at a Pima County Sheriff’s department airplane on March 5 2013. Downey and another man were also suspected of lasing a commercial airplane prior to the sheriff’s plane.

UK: Police officer gets two years community service, £3,500 in costs

James McIvor, 53
Luton, Bedfordshire, UK

James McIvor PCSO laser
On May 20 2013, McIvor, a Police Community Service Officer (PCSO) with British Transport Police, aimed a green laser pen at a police helicopter. This dazzled the crew and forced the pilot to take evasive action. McIvor later told officers he had been trying to attract his elderly cat who was on top of his garage. He 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. On February 4 2014, McIvor was sentenced in Luton Crown Court to two years community service and was ordered to pay £3,500 in costs.

US: 21 months for Calif. man "who can't help himself from doing stupid things"

Charles Conrad Mahaffey, 23
Clovis, California, US


On January 27 2014, Mahaffey was sentenced to 21 months in prison for aiming a “powerful red laser” at a Fresno County Sheriff’s Office helicopter. The pilot was distracted by the light and broke off the mission. In November 2013 Mahaffey pleaded guilty, saying he knew it was a crime to point a laser at an aircraft but said he “just can’t help himself from doing stupid things.”

Wales: Suspended 5-month sentence, 200 hours community service, £165 fine for lasing helicopter 10 times

Kevin Mark Griffiths, 22
Greenfield, Flintshire, Wales, UK

On September 25 2013, Griffiths repeatedly aimed a green laser at a North Wales Police helicopter that was trying to locate a missing person. He hit the aircraft about 10 times over an eight-minute period. At trial Griffiths admitted a charge of recklessly endangering an aircraft or persons inside. On January 9, 2014 he was given a five-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months, ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, and was fined £165 in costs.