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HOUSTON – A 20-year-old Houston man has entered a guilty plea to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Bryan Aldana, 20, admitted that on June 23 2018, he pointed a green laser light at an Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter while it was in the air.
On June 23 2018, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) agents were flying the helicopter on routine law enforcement patrol. At approximately 9:00 p.m., they were headed in the northwest direction along highway US-290 when agents observed a flash of green light coming from the left side of the aircraft. At the time, they were at approximately 1000 feet elevation and traveling at a speed of 70-80 knots.
The pilot reversed the aircraft back to the southeast direction and was illuminated again by the green laser, which was powerful enough to light up the entire cockpit. The light caused a glare in the pilot’s eyes and obstructed his vision, forcing him to turn his head and maneuver the Airbus away from it. The pilot also had to close and shield his eyes from the flashing green laser inside the cockpit.
The investigation led to the source of the light at a business near the intersection of Hollister and Pitner Roads in Houston. With the help of the Houston Police Department (HPD) and the store’s security cameras, Aldana was soon identified.
Video recordings show Aldana aiming a green laser up in the sky several times and a green laser pointer at the helicopter while sitting in a chair next to a silver sedan. He was also seen placing the green laser device through the opening of the silver sedan window on to the backseat.
Officers seized the laser and submitted it to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist to be examined. The scientist concluded the laser pointer is a Class IIIB laser system and produced a “laser beam” which could result in serious and possibly permanent retinal damage.
U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes accepted the plea and set sentencing for July 22 2019. At that time, Aldana faces up to five years in prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine. He was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.
The FBI, HPD and DPS conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Porto is prosecuting the case.
UPDATED July 23 2019: On July 22 2019, Brian Aldana was sentenced to 48 months in prison, and will have an additional three years of supervised release after he is released from prison. From mySA.com and CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.
The pilot was temporarily disoriented. He put on night vision goggles to prevent laser light from directly entering his eyes. He was able to direct officers on the ground to the woman, who was inside a car with a “long black cylinder-shaped laser pointer in her hand.”
Federal charges were filed against the 31-year-old woman.
According to KSHB, “Kansas City Police said the pilot flying the KCPD helicopter last month [May 2018] had a temporary deficiency in his vision and is currently recovering. The pilot is expected to return and fly again.”
The FBI said there were 110 cases of pilots reporting laser illuminations in Kansas City during 2017.
In January 2017, Jordan Clarence Rogers was sentenced to three years in federal prison for an October 2013 incident where he aimed a laser at a Kansas City police helicopter multiple times, resulting in several hours of eye strain for the pilot.
From June 1 2018 reports in the Kansas City Star, KSHB.com and Fox4KC.com
On October 22 2017, Roger Shane John struck a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department helicopter five to six times with a green laser, causing visual interference and disrupting an air support response to a domestic violence call.
At around the same time, John also aimed a laser 3-4 times at CalStar 12, an emergency medical helicopter.
Conviction would result in jail time of up to five years, and a fine of up to $250,000.
John had numerous prior run-ins with law enforcement, including convictions for domestic violence, identity theft, possession of a controlled substance for sale, being a felon in possession of a firearm and making threats with intent to terrorize.
Roger Shane John
On August 19 2017, the helicopter was flying over power lines when the cockpit lit up briefly with laser light. The helicopter spotter had to close his eyes. The pilot then aimed the aircraft’s searchlight down at the source of the laser beam, a person in a Jeep Patriot. The laser continued to be aimed at the helicopter.
Chula Vista police stopped the SUV. 27-year-old Michael Angelo Ramirez, a passenger, told them he shined the laser at what he thought was a drone, and the drone aimed a light back. He said he turned off the laser once he realized he had hit a helicopter.
However, the driver of the Jeep told police that it was clear the aircraft was a helicopter and not a drone.
Ramirez was taken into custody and later was released. After his arraignment on November 30 2017 he was taken back into custody. Ramirez faces up to five years in jail and up to a $250,000 fine.
From the Times of San Diego
UPDATED December 28 2017 - Ramirez pleaded guilty to one charge of aiming at an aircraft, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
On December 29 2016, Jay Scott Howell aimed the laser 11 times at the helicopter. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on February 7 2017 on one count of aiming the laser. The maximum penalty is up to five years in federal prison and/or up to a $250,000 fine.
Howell pleaded guilty on April 10 2017 to the charge.
While U.S. sentencing guidelines recommended an 18-24 month prison term, the judge sentenced Howell to one year of probation. The judge cited Howell’s age (53), limited criminal history and remorse for his actions. The prosecuting U.S. attorney did not object to the sentence, telling the judge “He’s the perfect candidate. I don’t anticipate ever seeing Mr. Howell again.”
If probation is revoked, Howell could serve up to the maximum sentence of five years.
From the Tulsa World
The aircraft was on patrol when it was illuminated around 10:30 pm. The beam was traced to a house. Ground officers arrested Darren Williams.
The teen’s father said Darren was unaware that it was illegal to aim a laser at aircraft. “It was an honest mistake. He is really remorseful about it.”
He was charged on both state and federal counts. On the federal charge, he could face up to five years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000.
From News9, Fox25 and KOCO News 5
On October 28 2013, Rogers aimed a laser three times at a Kansas City (Missouri) Police Department helicopter. The pilot had “eye strain” for several hours after the incident.
Rogers was indicted on the laser charge on August 26 2014. He pleaded guilty on September 8 2016 to one felony count.
At sentencing, federal prosecutors said that Rogers had an extensive history of criminal activity including drug and property crimes, which should be a factor in a longer 4-year sentence.
Rogers’ attorney said the sentence should be shorter. While Rogers knew it was illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft, “he had no knowledge of the highly scientific manner in which a laser endangers an airplane.”
In a sentencing memorandum, he attorney wrote “The average person would believe that a laser beam hitting an aircraft would cause a small spot to appear on the aircraft or in the cockpit, much like shining a laser beam at a wall. It is not common knowledge that the laser actually increases with size as it extends, and that the glass of the cockpit can expand the light further, causing it to light up the entire cockpit.”
From KY3.com, the Kansas City Star, and an article by Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica with additional links to legal materials.
The incident occurred on May 30 2015. Orlando Jose Chapa was in his driveway when he aimed a laser beam at a Department of Public Safety helicopter. He was arrested on September 23 2015, after being indicted by a federal grand jury.
He remains free on bond; a sentencing date has not been set. He could receive up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.
Orlando Jose Chapa
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: Appeals court says 30-month sentence for aiming laser at aircraft is too long; defendent did not know of laser risk
Gardenhire’s photo on Facebook, according to the blog LA Weekly.com
The judges sent the case back to the U.S. district court in Los Angeles for a new sentencing hearing under a new judge. Under the original sentencing guidelines, Gardenhire had been recommended for 27 to 33 months in prison taking into account the reckless endangerment charge, or 4 to 10 months in prison without the charge.
The appeals court noted that, prior to the March 2013 laser incident, a friend of Gardenhire said that shining a laser beam into another person’s eye could lead to blindness. The appeals court then went on to say that information was different from “knowing that a laser beam can be distracting to pilots who are both enclosed in a cockpit and at least 2,640 feet away. Nor did the government submit any evidence of what even an average person would know about the effects of aiming a laser beam at an aircraft…. That one knows that the laser is dangerous when pointed directly in a person’s eyes does not mean that one knows about the beam’s ability to expand and refract, rendering it particularly hazardous for pilots in an aircraft miles away, or that the danger is heightened at nighttime because the pilot’s eyes have adjusted to the dark.”
The court specifically referred to the lack of any notice, label or other information regarding the risk of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft: “Gardenhire heeded the only warning he was given—not to shine the laser directly in anyone’s eyes—and he was not immediately alerted to any additional risks he was creating by aiming the beam at an aircraft.”
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.)
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.
The incident occurred at about 1 am on June 1 2014. A DPS crew responded to a report of a medical helicopter having laser beams aimed at it, near Amarillo’s Tradewind Airport. As it searched, the DPS helicopter was struck by laser beams two or three times.
Suspects on the ground got into a van and drove away. The DPS aircraft followed them, directing ground officers who closed in. A laser pointer was seen in the van. They arrested Matthew George Dodgen, 35, and Christopher Anthony Cantrell, 33.
DPS referred the case to the FBI. The grand jury indicted on charges of aiming at an aircraft, which has a penalty of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The men were also indicted on an “aiding and abetting” charge.
Zipf had previously been convicted in 2011, of pointing a blue laser at a Phoenix police helicopter. It is not known what fine or sentence, if any, came out of the 2011 conviction.
In June 2014 he pleaded guilty to one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, a felony in the U.S. since February 2012. In addition to the prison sentence, Zipf also must undergo mental health and substance abuse treatment. He has until December 30 2014 to report to prison.
From KLAS-TV and a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada. LaserPointerSafety previously reported on Zipf’s February 2014 indictment, and details of the lasing incidents, in this story.
On June 7 2014, a California Highway Patrol helicopter was responding to an incident in Oakland when the flight officer noticed two green flashes aimed at the aircraft. Ground officers found a laser pointer in Palomino’s pocket.
The helicopter had to break off a search with the Oakland Police Department, to deal with the laser incident. In an affidavit, an FBI special agent stated that “the two officers in the CHP helicopter had to divert their attention back and forth between searching for the source of the laser and providing assistance to the OPD.”
According to the Contra Costa Times, Palomino was taking a selfie video during the incident: “In the video, Palomino yelled at the helicopter pilot, ‘Look at this laser!’ A woman can be heard in the background saying, ‘Don't do that! You know you could blind ... You('re) going to go to jail if you do that. Don't do that!’”
According to SFGate, “In a recorded telephone conversation from jail, Palomino asked his mother in Spanish if she had recorded a news segment about the incident, which he described as an ‘embarrassment,’ Koh wrote [in the affidavit]. ‘Palomino’s mother replied by stating, ‘You should be embarrassed for doing dumb a– things.’ “
Palomino is free on $10,000 bond with a condition of a 6 pm curfew. The teen was released into the custody of his mother, and will be arraigned on September 5 2014.
From NBC Bay Area and SFGate
UPDATED December 2 2015 — Palomino was sentenced to five years probation, including six months of community confinement in a halfway house, 200 hours of community service, and not owning a laser pointer. He also will be required to educate people about the consequences of aiming laser pointers at aircraft. From the Contra Costa Times
From Connect MidMissouri
UPDATED September 8 2016: Rogers pleaded guilty to one felony count. Prosecutors say the pilot sustained eye strain that lasted for hours. From KSNT.com
On August 24 2013, as a DPS helicopter flew over Garland, a green laser light illuminated the cockpit. The crew identified three persons on the ground and sent officers. When confronted, the three men did not want to identify who did it, until they were told the helicopter had video of the incident and suspects. Chavez then confessed. He was arrested and the laser pointer was confiscated as evidence.
Chavez had been arrested just a few weeks earlier, on August 3 2013, on suspicion of drunken driving. (He was passed out in a car that had crashed into a pole. He told officers he had three 12-ounce beers earlier. He could not remember what city he had started driving from. When asked if his trouble remembering was because he was drunk, Chavez reportedly said “Probably.”)
He had served a four-month sentence in Lubbock, earlier in 2013, also for drunk driving.
From the Dallas Morning News
In February 2014, Sumpter was arrested after a police helicopter was hit by a green laser beam. He told the arresting officer that he was responsible. When the pilot arrived, wearing his flight suit, Sumpter asked him, “Were you the one in the helicopter?”
From the Tampa Bay Times
David Walter Fee, 22, was charged with aiming a powerful green laser pointer at Air 43, a CHP aircraft. The pilot suffered temporary blindness and the aircraft was forced to break away from investigating a burglary in progress. Also charged along with Fee was Andrew Zarate, 20, also of Fresno. The disposition of his case is not known.
Fee faces up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines when sentenced.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Fresno Office, California Highway Patrol, and Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen A. Escobar and Michael G. Tierney prosecuted the case.
From the Fresno Bee and the April 10 2014 U.S. Attorney’s Office press release about the indictment of Fee and Zarate.
UPDATED August 11 2014 - Zarate pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at a California Highway Patrol airplane. He was scheduled to be sentenced November 3 2014. Fee pleaded guilty to the same offense in June and was scheduled to be sentenced August 25 2014. From an August 11 2014 U.S. Attorney’s Office press release about Zarate’s guilty plea.
UPDATED September 29 2014 - Fee was sentenced to 18 months in prison, plus two years of supervised release. From KMJ Now.
UPDATED November 3 2014 - Zarate was sentenced to one year in prison, plus two years of supervised release. From Ars Technica and ABC30.
Gabriel Soza Ruedas Jr.
The 25-year-old faces up to five years in federal prison, and up to a $250,000 fine if convicted.
From KEYE TV
UPDATED - July 7 2014: Ruedas entered a guilty plea in Federal court in Austin. No sentencing date has been set. Ruedas faces up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. From SFGate, KEYE TV and the Austin American-Statesman.
UPDATED - October 2 2014: Ruedas was sentenced to two years in prison, plus three years probation after his release. From KTBC and the Austin American-Statesman.
UPDATED - October 9 2014: Austin TV station FOX 7 obtained video from the AIR-1 helicopter, showing the Frbruary laser strike and the arrest. From MyFOXaustin.
According to police, green laser light hit the cockpit window around four times, shining for several seconds each time. The crew notified ground officers who found Michael James Saavedra, 22, and Dylan James Demone, 23, in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart.
Saavedra (left) and Demone leave federal court after their May 21 2014 hearing
Click to read more...
Saavedra told an officer that he aimed his laser at the helicopter. The police report said “Mr. Saavedra did not intend to harm anyone, nor was he aware it was illegal.”
As a result, the pilots of the Air-1 helicopter suffered flash blindness that lasted a few minutes, causing disorientation. The pilots were ultimately able to pinpoint the origin of the beams and, with the help of patrol deputies, identified Scott as a suspect.
Sentencing for Scott is set for July 21 2014. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine
From the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California
On May 12 2014, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 24, was sentenced to two years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. An FBI special agent said ““Coleman and Rodriguez demonstrated outrageous and willful disregard for the safety of aviators, Air George’s patients, and the public.”
In imposing sentence, Judge Lawrence O’Neill considered the opinion of Dr. Leon McLin, a Senior Research Optometrist for the Air Force Research Laboratory who testified at trial, that the laser pointer that Coleman used was an instrument capable of inflicting serious bodily injury and, indirectly, death due to a high potential for crash caused by visual interference.
Judge O'Neill found the high‑powered laser pointer was a dangerous weapon, and referring to the potential for a crash resulting from the pilots’ impaired vision stated, "I physically shudder to think of what could have happened."
From the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California
Prior to this, the longest sentence anywhere in the world for a laser/aircraft incident was four years, handed down in January 2010 to Jamie Allen Downie. For more information, see the page Sentences for laser offenses and click the tags on the left side to find jail terms of 0-6 months, 7-12 months, 13-24 months, 25-36 months, 37-48 months, and over 4 years.
UPDATED June 24 2015: Rodriguez’s 14-year sentence for reckless endangerment was overturned by an appeals court, saying there was no evidence that he had harmful intent as required by the law.
Based on the government’s sentencing recommendation, 8 years of Rodriguez’s sentence were imposed for the laser violation, and an additional 6 years were due to Rodriguez’s prior criminal history of gang affiliation and numerous probation violations.
In addition, the government told the judge that “[s]entencing Rodriguez to a substantial prison term will send an important deterrent message that could not be more timely.”
The government stated at one point that Rodriguez should receive 20 years to life imprisonment based on its analysis, but they would be satisfied with 14 years.
Rodriguez’s lawyer countered that the guidelines had been misapplied and the sentence should be only 57 months (4 3/4 years). The lawyer contended that Rodriguez was in his backyard, playing with the laser to see how far it could go and he had no knowledge of laser/aircraft hazards.
Click to read more...
US: UPDATED - California man sentenced to 14 years for aiming 65 mW laser at Fresno police helicopter
The 14-year sentence is the longest ever imposed for lasing an aircraft, anywhere in the world. Rodriguez’s lawyer unsuccessfully argued that a term of 57 months (4 3/4 years) would be “harsh, but ... is arguably a just punishment.” The previous longest sentence was 4 years for Jamie Allen Downie, sentenced in January 2010.
Sergio Patrick Rodriguez
Federal sentencing guidelines take into account the crime itself as well as the defendant’s criminal history. U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill said at sentencing that Rodriguez was “a walking crime spree.” Based on the government’s sentencing recommendation, 8 years of the sentence were imposed for the laser violation, and an additional 6 years were due to Rodriguez’s prior criminal history of gang affiliation and numerous probation violations.
A more detailed analysis of the 14-year sentence is here.
The Rodriguez case began August 25 2012 when a helicopter from the Children’s Hospital of Central California was illuminated by a green laser. Fresno Police Department’s Air 1 was sent to investigate.
It was repeatedly and deliberately struck by the light. The beam was traced back to Rodriguez, now 26, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23. Pilots from both helicopters said the laser strikes caused significant visual interference.
The laser’s power was later measured as 65 milliwatts. This is 13 times the 5 mW limit for lasers marketed as “pointers” in the U.S. This 13x power increase leads to a 3.6 times increase in the distance at which Rodriguez’s laser was a hazard (see Note 1).
On November 17 2013, the helicopter was patrolling over the Boyle Heights area, which Wikipedia describes as a "working class, heavily Latino, youthful neighborhood of almost a hundred thousand residents east of Downtown Los Angeles." The aircraft was struck several times by a green laser beam that illuminated the cockpit.
The source was tracked to a home where George Sam Elali, 31, was arrested on state charges. After an investigation by the FBI and the sheriff's department, the state charges were dropped and Elali was indicted February 14 2014 by a federal grand jury.
From CBS Los Angeles
The incident occurred January 4 2014. No one was injured. Dorsett was arrested in El Paso and was charged with a violation of 18 USC 39A, aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.
From WOAI, Statesman.com and a press release from U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas
UPDATED - July 31 2014: Dorsett was convicted by a federal jury. Sentencing was scheduled for October 2 2014. He could receive up to five years in federal prison. From KVIA.com.
US: UPDATED - Las Vegas area man, previously convicted of aiming lasers at helicopters, does it again six times
James David Zipf had been convicted in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011 for aiming a blue laser at police helicopters. In May 2013 he moved to Henderson, Nevada, 12 miles from Las Vegas.
The indictment stated that Zipf aimed a laser at Las Vegas Metro Police helicopters six times between January 31 and February 12 2014. In one of the attacks, the pilot was so disoriented that he landed the aircraft and ended his shift.
At a detention hearing, Zipf was ordered to remain in jail. The judge said he had endangered the helicopter crews, was a threat to the community, was not truthful to federal agents, and was using drugs.
Zipf faces up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for each of the six counts.
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal, MyNews3 and CBS Las Vegas
UPDATED - September 24 2014: Zipf was sentenced to two years in prison. He also must undergo mental health and substance abuse treatment. A news reported noted that one of the flight officers in a February 3 2014 incident experienced a severe headache. From KLAS-TV
Carl Floyd said “I was freaking out. At first, I didn't know what was going on, then they told me what was going on and I first I denied it because I was nervous. It was 100 percent accident, not intentional, to hit an aircraft or put anybody else in danger.”
The helicopter pilot said he was hit three or four times by the green laser light, and that he doesn’t believe it was an accident.
Floyd’s case will go to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict him on federal charges with a potential penalty of up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.
A map of the Tulsa area showing recent (2013) laser incidents
From NewsOn6.com and Tulsa World
UPDATED November 13 2014 - A federal jury deadlocked in July 2014. During the trial, Floyd said he was aiming at objects such as a cell tower, a mailbox and a tree, and he did not knowingly illuminate the helicopter. Just before a second trial in November, he made a plea agreement where he pleaded guilty; saying he “knowingly aimed the beam of a laser pointer at the flight path of a helicopter that I was aware was flying nearby.” He said he had suffered severe injuries in a July 21 2014 motorcycle accident. The prosecution agreed that in light of his medical condition, a probationary sentence be imposed. Sentencing is scheduled for February 20 2015. From the Tulsa World.
An FBI special agent who worked on the case said "I know a couple pilots that do have permanent injuries related to laser incidents because the intensity of the laser and the affects it has on parts on the eye."
From ABC15 and KVOA
Stephen Francis Bukucs, who worked as a private security guard
An AP report said Bukucs pleaded not guilty. He told a judge that he pointed at aircraft over 25 times “for excitement, for thrills”. He would listen to the resulting law enforcement response on a police scanner.
The judge ordered a mental health evaluation for Bukucs, who has no prior criminal record.
UPDATED October 25 2013: Bukucs was identified through sophisticated surveillance coordinated by the FBI, according to a search warrant application detailing the operation. Begun in August 2013, it involved the use of video-equipped aircraft to identify the laser source, secret cameras installed to monitor Bukucs’ apartment, and physical surveillance by Special Agents. An account of the operation is here.
UPDATED March 17 2015: Bukucs was sentenced to six months in federal prison on March 16 2015, with an additional three years probation after his release. Bukucs had pleaded guilty on July 15 2014 to aiming at two commercial airliner flights. Bukucs confessed to the FBI that, over several months, he had targeted up to 25 aircraft and that he did so for entertainment and as a “cat-and-mouse” game with the police who pursued him. According to the U.S. District Attorney, the laser beam Bukucs had was a high-powered version, not the type used in an office presentation.
His arrest occurred after intense air and ground surveillance by FBI agents and police officers. A task force involving the FBI, Portland police, Port of Portland police and other agencies, flew two airplanes as decoys in August 2013 to try and draw out the perpetrator. Investigators reported over 100 laser strikes from the vicinity of defendant’s apartment in 2013.
Prosecutors sought a two year sentence. The judge granted leniency (six months) because Bukucs was suffering from mental illness. His girlfriend had died from a seizure, leading him to abuse prescription painkillers and to deliberately target aircraft with the laser pointer. In court, Bukucs apologized and said he was ashamed. He knew the laser could annoy pilots but denied he had malicious intent: “I was just being stupid. I look back now and I'm so embarrassed by my actions." From a March 17 2015 FBI press release (reprinted below), a July 15 2014 Oregonian news story, a March 16 2015 Oregonian news story, and an AP report in the Greenfield Reporter.
The helicopter had been conducting a training exercise. The laser light went in the pilots’ eyes and disoriented them. The pilot thought he was under attack. In a statement to the court, he wrote: “My first thought was that we would soon hear and feel the impact of bullets hitting the helicopter. At our altitude we had no way of knowing it was a laser pointer, not a weapon…. Why someone would choose to target any aircraft, much less one performing critical work for the public is beyond my understanding.”
From The Monitor. An press release about the sentence, issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas on September 25 2013, is here. The original LaserPointerSafety.com report of the March 7 2013 incident is here.
A green laser beam was aimed at Dallas Police Department’s Air One at least four times over 10 minutes. The beam led back to Santodomingo’s house, where ground officers arrested him. The 22-year-old admitted to aiming at the helicopter, saying he wanted to see how far it would go.
“This young man’s conduct was extraordinarily dangerous and could have had disastrous consequences, which was reflected in the court’s sentence today,” said U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldana in a news release.
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and DallasNews. A video of the incident is available here. LaserPointerSafety.com’s original account of Santodomingo’s February 28 2013 guilty plea is here.
The sentencing came a little over one year after the July 11 2012 lasings in which Smith -- 29 at the time -- aimed a red laser pointer at a Southwest Airlines aircraft, and subsequently six or seven times at an Omaha police department helicopter that was trying to find the perpetrator. The conviction and sentence appear to be for the helicopter incident only.
In addition, Omaha.com reported that Smith had previously been fined $9,000 by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
For the July 11 2012 incident, he could have received a five-year sentence and a fine of up to $250,000.
More information is in our stories on the original search for Smith and on his April 24 2013 conviction.
From KETV, WOWT News and Omaha.com. Thanks to Jack Dunn, Greg Makhov and John Neff for bringing this to our attention.
UPDATED June 27 2014 - A federal appeals court upheld the two-year sentence. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Michael Smith’s assertion that he didn’t believe the laser would reach the aircraft. The court said the February 14 2012 federal law doesn’t require prosecutors to show that he intended to hit the aircraft. From The Republic.
The incident happened March 21 2013, when officers in the helicopter were hit by the bright blue beam. They were startled but were able to regain their composure and located the source as Rademacher’s home. Ground officers searched the home and recovered a “high-powered laser.”
From 10TV.com and the Columbus Dispatch
A police evidence technician displays the laser pointer that was confiscated. The Omaha World-Herald reported that the laser emits red light.
On July 11 2012, a Southwest Airlines pilot was lased as he came in for a landing in Omaha. Subsequently, an Omaha Police Department helicopter was also lased six or seven times, with the pilot reporting being temporarily blinded. Smith was arrested in his backyard by a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy.
From KETV and Omaha.com. LaserPointerSafety.com originally reported on this in July 2012, when police had not yet arrested Smith. The photo above is from that story.
UPDATED July 22 2013: Michael Smith was sentenced to two years in federal prison to be followed by a 3-year term of supervised release. He was the first person in Nebraska indicted under the February 14 2012 federal law which made it illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft. From KETV and WOWT News.
A photo shows the beam aimed by Daniel Dangler
Click to read more...
On July 18 2012, a photographer in the helicopter saw the cockpit light up with a green light. He told the pilot not to look towards the beam. The beam location was identified and police officers on the ground questioned Dangler. According to prosecutors, Dangler said he didn’t realize the beam would harm anyone or that it was a crime.
He pleaded guilty on October 17 2012 and was sentenced April 10 2013.
The FAA has a separate civil case pending which could result in a fine of up to $11,000.
Philly.com reported that Dangler is “an unemployed high-school dropout with convictions for burglary, driving under the influence and marijuana possession.” The news source also quoted the photographer, Alasdair Nugent, as saying “It is almost the same as pointing a gun at a person.”
From MyFoxPhilly.com, Philly.com, Philly.com more detailed story, and CBSlocal.com. Note: MyFoxPhilly identified the helicopter as “SkyFOX”, Philly.com called it “Fox29” while CBSlocal identified it as “Chopper 3 HD”. From news coverage, it appears to be the same helicopter.
For the text of the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, click the “Read More…” link.
According to the indictment, on December 27 2012 each man aimed a laser pointer at the Halo Flight medical helicopter.
From an FBI Houston Division press release. Thanks to Chuck Maricle of AixiZ for bringing this to our attention.
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.
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From KSDK.com, Riverfront Times, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri
UPDATED April 11 2013: Michael Brandon Smith was sentenced to two year’s probation, two months home confinement and 40 hours of community service. A LaserPointerSafety.com story is here.
- Two counts of interference with flight crew (20 years maximum penalty for each count)
- Two counts of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft (5 years maximum penalty for each count)
- Two counts of assaulting, resisting or impeding federal officers (25 years maximum penalty for each count)
The Virginian-Pilot reported that Bruce aimed lasers at the jets “more than a dozen times” since December 2011. He was annoyed by the their noise. The two counts of assaulting federal officers may be related to Bruce calling the air station to threaten to shoot at the noisy aircraft.
According to a press release, “it is believed that the Eastern District of Virginia is the second jurisdiction to indict” using the new Federal law passed February 14 2012, making it a criminal offense to aim a laser pointer at or near an aircraft.
From the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, PilotOnline.com, and WAVY.com
UPDATE July 31 2012: Bruce pleaded guilty to one count of interfering with the operation of an aircraft. The other five counts were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea. Bruce will be sentenced October 19 2012. He could receive up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Pilots testified that they saw lasers at least 10 times from the area of Bruce’s house between December 29 2011 and June 5 2012. One of the pilots lased by Bruce reported that direct eye exposure was painful, distracted her during landing, and gave her a headache. A spokesperson for Oceana Naval Air Station said that, of 18 laser incidents in Virginia Beach since December 2011, 12 of the incidents were due to Bruce. There were 12 incidents total in 2011. From the Virginian-Pilot.
Such a spate of laserings is unusual, according to an Oklahoma City Police Department spokesperson: “It’s kind of rare that we would have this many all at one time.” Some commenters to a News9.com story speculated that the media attention given to the first two incidents may have triggered the second two.
From News9.now, the Norman Transcript, and a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma. For a full version of the press release, click the “Read More…” link below.
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: It would be interesting for the police to question Sullivent, to find out if he was aware of, or influenced by, the media reports of the June 7 laser incidents.
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Hansen could receive up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In addition, he “agrees to make full restitution to the affected airline companies.” He may not face the maximum, since the U.S. agreed to downward adjustments in the sentencing guidelines in return for Hanson accepting responsibility for his actions.
As of May 16 Hansen has not been sentenced.
The Plea Agreement states that Hansen “temporarily blinded or distracted the pilots of commercial passenger airliners during a critical phase of flight as those aircraft took off from OIA…. On some occasions, the laser beam … caused pilots to lose their night vision and, on at least one occasion, resulted in a pilot’s removal from duty for medical examinations and to recover from temporary vision problems.”
When arrested on March 24 2012, Hansen told FBI agents that he aimed a laser pointer as “stress relief” from “noise anxiety” due to aircraft flying overhead. He said that “he did not know that the laser would harm the pilots or affect the aircraft.”
LaserPointerSafety.com’s original story on the March 24 arrest is here. The full text of the U.S. Attorney’s office press release is below (click the “Read More…” link).
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Gardenhire had been arrested on state charges at his North Hollywood home about two hours after the March 29 lasing, and had been free on bail while the FBI and other authorities worked on the federal indictment. Each federal count carries a maximum prison term of 5 years, so Gardenhire faces a total of 10 years in prison. He could also be charged under a separate FAA civil suit for interference with an aircraft.
Gardenhire’s photo on Facebook, according to the blog LA Weekly.com
A post on Gardenhire’s Facebook page just before the federal charge said he was going to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in LA: “Twin towers tomorrow... Not looking forward !!!:/ whats poppin though?=)”. A post afterwards said “There on to me o.O”. On Facebook, he stated his Activity as “graffing” (complex graffiti) and his Interests as “Bitches and hoes”.
From 89.3 KPCC, the Glendale News, the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly.com, and 7th Space Interactive.
*The term “commercial-grade” is not a standard term in the laser field. An FBI spokeswoman told LaserPointerSafety.com that the term “was not a technical description but one to differentiate between a small personal laser one might use for an office presentation, as opposed to the kind used in the attack, which might be used for the grand opening of a department store or other commercial enterprise.” It is surprising to LaserPointerSafety.com that a teenager would have such a laser, which would require wall power (110 VAC) and would be bulky and thus harder to aim at an aircraft. We are trying to get more details.
UPDATED, October 29 2012: Gardenhire pleaded guilty to deliberately aiming at multiple aircraft. Sentencing was set for January 2013. From the Burbank Leader.
UPDATED March 26 2013: Gardenhire was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. The judge said he wanted to send a message to others. More details are in a LaserPointerSafety.com story.