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US: Long Island man arrested for lasing two aircraft

A Long Island man was arrested in January 2013 after confessing to pointing a laser beam at two aircraft.

On August 21 2012, a Sun Country Airlines chartered Boeing 737 was illuminated by a green laser beam while at 12,000 feet over Suffolk County on its way to John F. Kennedy International Airport. A Suffolk County police helicopter was sent to investigate and also had a green beam pointed at it. The police pilot was able to trace the beam back to the home of Angel Rivas in Shirley, a community in the town of Brookhaven on Long Island’s south shore. After landing, the three persons on the police helicopter were treated at a hospital and released.

At Rivas’ home, patrol officer, Matthew Dewitt, confronted the 33-year-old, who denied aiming at the aircraft. No action was taken due to a lack of any other evidence.

On January 4 2013, Dewitt was responding to a call of an altercation at a convenience store. Rivas turned out to be one of the persons involved. When asked for ID, Rivas said he did not have any due to a suspended license, and then told Dewitt “You know me, you were at my house, I was the one who lasered the plane.” Rivas was immediately arrested, advised of his Miranda rights, and was taken into custody.
He was charged under a February 2012 law making it a federal offense to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, or the flight path of an aircraft. The penalty is up to five years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000.

On January 23 2013 he was released on $10,000 bond and under the conditions that he not own or use a laser and that his home could be randomly searched.

Pic 2013-09-12 at 1.48.30 PM
Angel Rivas, in custody

The FBI assisted in the case. According to the FBI, in 2012 there were 72 cases in the New York metropolitan area where pilots said their aircraft was struck by a laser beam.

From Newsday via the Huffington Post, a separate Newsday article, and the Gothamist,

The FBI press release follows:

Defendant from Shirley Arrested for Aiming a Laser Beam at Aircraft Flying Over Long Island

Complaint Charges Angel Rivas with Using a Laser Pointer to Direct a Laser Beam at a Commercial Airliner Headed for JFK Airport and at a Police Helicopter

U.S. Attorney’s Office
January 23, 2013

Eastern District of New York
(718) 254-7000

Federal agents arrested a Shirley, Long Island man this morning on the charge of aiming a laser pointer at two aircraft in August 2012.

The arrest of Angel Rivas was announced today by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and George Venizelos, Assistant Director in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office. The defendant is scheduled to be arraigned before the United States Magistrate Judge Arlene R. Lindsay at the United States Courthouse in Central Islip, New York, later today.

According to court filings, on August 21, 2012, the defendant used a laser pointer to direct a laser beam at a commercial aircraft and a Suffolk County Police Department helicopter sent up to investigate the initial incident. Investigators first determined that the beam of light came from the vicinity of the defendant’s residence on William Floyd Parkway in Shirley, New York, and then confirmed that the defendant himself had directed the laser beam at the aircraft and helicopter.

“Laser pointers aimed at aircraft pose many dangers, including disrupting the vision of pilots,” said United States Attorney Lynch. “Last February, President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which specifically prohibited the conduct alleged in the complaint. The safety of American air travelers has been and will continue to be a priority for law enforcement.” Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General-Investigations, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, the Suffolk County Police Department, and the Port Authority Police Department for their participation in the investigation leading to today’s arrest.

FBI Assistant Director in Charge Venizelos stated, “On a night last summer, Rivas allegedly endangered the lives of passengers and crew of not one but two aircraft and, potentially, people on the ground. Pointing a laser at an aircraft is not a prank; it is a federal crime with penalties befitting its seriousness.”

If convicted of the charge, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Charles N. Rose.

The charges contained in the complaint are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.