A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
Pinson, Alabama, US
On April 11 2020, a Jefferson County Sheriff's Office helicopter was working on a mission to recover stolen weapons when it was illuminated by a laser "numerous" times. The laser strikes happened while flying below an approach path for the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Information from the crew eventually led to Gabriel Lopez Mathews.
He was indicted on January 26 2021, pleaded guilty in April 2021 and was sentenced on September 15 2021 to eight months in prison.
From CBS42 and ABC3340 News
Rincon, Georgia, US
Hendricks aimed a green laser at commercial aircraft landing at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia, between November 27 2019 and January 14 2020. One of the pilots helped pinpoint the origin of the laser strikes.
Hendricks was indicted on November 10 2020. He pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. He was sentenced August 24 2021 to 18 months in prison, plus three years of supervised release after completion of his prison term.
For more information, see this LaserPointerSafety.com story
Woodcroft, South Australia
A South Australia Police helicopter checking on COVID compliance during a three-day lockdown was hit seven times by a blue laser on November 20, 2020. There was no injury to the crew but one officer was dazzled temporarily by the beam.
Two frames from the South Australia Police helicopter. In the first frame the laser beam is aimed to the left of the camera. In the second frame the beam is aimed directly at the camera lens. The human eye would have a similar effect, first seeing the beam then being dazzled and flashblinded by the bright direct light.
The perpetrator was found to be Mark Andrew Golka, 49, who lived in the Adelaide suburb of Woodcroft. He was said to have been drinking alcohol and taking prescription pain medication when he aimed the laser. At sentencing, the judge told Golka "…that is no excuse to having committed these offences."
Golka was sentenced to 15 months in prison, suspended. He signed a two-year good behavior bond, will be supervised for 18 months, and will perform 80 hours of community service.
After the sentencing, his lawyer said Golka was sorry for what he had done.
From ABC News. The page includes a video of the laser illumination, from which the two frames above were taken.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US
Laser strikes occurred seven times between May 31 and June 7 2021 in the summer of 2020 during protests in Milwaukee. An FBI surveillance airplane and a Wisconsin National Guard helicopter were targeted. The FBI crew began wearing anti-laser goggles to protect against bright laser light. A camera on board their aircraft was used to determine the laser's location.
Ground officers then went in and arrested 39-year-old Jeremiah Belen, a resident of Milwaukee.
Belen apologized to the judge during his sentencing. He said he had the laser for astronomy pointing with his two children. Belen said he aimed at the aircraft because he was bored after being laid off during the COVID pandemic.
Prosecutors said they wanted the felony conviction to "send a message" that aiming at aircraft, especially during civil unrest, is dangerous.
Belen could have received up to five years in prison for his action, but was given probation due to no previous criminal history and having found a job since his arrest.
From 715 Newsroom, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via MSN
Louisville, Kentucky, US
From a June 1 2021 news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Kentucky:
A Louisville man was sentenced last week to 2 years of probation, including 8 months of home incarceration, for aiming a laser pointer at a Louisville Metro Police helicopter.
According to court documents, Manuel Martin Salazar-Leija, Jr., 26, of Louisville, aimed the beam of a laser pointer at an LMPD helicopter on September 25, 2020, during protests in the city. Lasers can blind pilots and cause the aircraft to crash, and aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal felony offense.
In addition to 2 years of probation and 8 months of home incarceration, United States District Court Judge David Hale ordered Salazar-Leija, Jr., to pay a $2,500 fine and the costs of his home incarceration.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiser prosecuted the case.
Evanston, South Australia
In September 2013, Stewart repeatedly aimed a laser pen at a police helicopter.
The pilot had been using night vision goggles. He had "minor discomfort and sensitivity to light" for the next two days.
In court on July 2 2015, Stewart's lawyer said he was inebriated at the time and was playing with the laser which he had purchased online for less than AUS $10. The lawyer called Stewart's actions "inebriated stupidity."
The judge called Stewart's actions "drunken, dumb and dangerous."
Stewart pleaded guilty to prejudicing the safe operation of an aircraft and using a prohibited weapon — the laser.
He was sentenced to two years and four months, suspended in favor of a $500, two-year good behavior bond.
From ABC News
Richmond, Virginia, US
On June 4 2020, a green laser beam was aimed at a police aircraft that was monitoring civil unrest at the [Robert E.] Lee Monument, a 21-foot tall statue of the Confederate general sitting on a 40-foot pedestal. The air crew directed officers on the ground. They found and arrested 33-year-old Amanda Robinson.
In November 2020 she pleaded guilty. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the mother of 4, who had no previous criminal record, could have been jailed for up to 6 months. Both her lawyer and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia asked for no jail time, because Robinson did not know that shining a laser at aircraft was hazardous, and because she cooperated with prosecutors.
On March 23 2021 Robinson was sentenced to 12 months probation.
From the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Burringham, North Lincolnshire, UK
Cheeseman was convicted after a "sustained laser attack" on a National Air Police Helicopter flying over Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire on April 11 2020.
The helicopter crew directed Humberside Police to a location where Cheeseman was arrested. He pleaded not guilty in December 2020. In early March 2021, Cheeseman was given a 12 month sentence, suspended four months. He was convicted of shining a laser beam towards a person providing air services, causing the laser beam to dazzle or distract that person.
From GrimsbyLive. Although the story says the sentence was 12 months with four months suspended, the headline states "Man avoids prison…" The apparent discrepancy may be due to factors of British law or judicial terms.
Missoula, Montana, US
On March 3 2020, a SkyWest flight on decent to the Great Falls, Montana airport was illuminated by a bright green laser that lit up the cockpit.
Sheriff's deputies located a Jeep in which Loven was a passenger. A laser pointer was in a cup holder.
Loven admitted aiming the laser at an aircraft. He said he wanted to "test out the distance of the laser". He also said he did not know it was illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft.
On October 28, 2020, he pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.
On February 25 2021, Loven was sentenced to three years probation. U.S. federal prosecutors had requested a sentence of 15 to 21 months in prison. Contrary to some news reports, the only punishment was probation.
More on the incident here.
Keighley, West Yorkshire
On February 26 2021, Fort was sentenced to six months in jail, after he repeatedly aimed a laser at a police helicopter.
On August 17 2020, the aircraft was searching for a missing person in Keighley when it was illuminated by laser light multiple times. There was no apparent ill effect on the pilot other than closing his eyes as a reflex. The crew located the source and passed the information to ground officers.
When Fort was arrested, he first said he had been using the laser to look for rabbits, then said he aimed the laser at a "UFO". Fort said the laser pen was inexpensive so he did not think it would get near the helicopter.
At trial, the judge said both explanations were lies: "…the reality is there was no, and never could be, any justification for what you did."
During the trial, Fort's past issues with alcohol, severe depression, and paranoia were raised. For example, at the first sentencing hearing in January 2021, Fort arrived drunk. Three officers took him to a holding cell to sleep off his inebriation. Sentencing was re-scheduled for February 26.
On that date, the judge said he wanted Fort to spend years in prison because he was an "idiot" for aiming at the helicopter. He did not think such a long sentence would be sustained at appeal, so he handed down a sentence of six months.
From BBC News and the Telegraph & Argus
A 29-year-old man was sentenced on January 6 2021 to 30 weeks in prison for aiming a £9 laser pen at a police helicopter searching for a missing teenager in Swansea, Wales.
On September 2 2020, a National Police Air Service helicopter with a crew of three was searching for a missing female teen at about 2:40 am when it was hit by five or six "bright green, sharp lights" lasting 5-10 second each. The pilot was momentarily blinded and was disoriented; another crew member was dazzled. The crew abandoned the search due to the pilot's loss of vision.
Ground officers went to a location pinpointed by the helicopter's thermal imaging camera. They smelled marijuana and found William Andrew David James Fellowes with a laser pen. He later told police he had been pointing at stars and the pilot got in his way. He said he did not know the sky light was a helicopter and thought it was a bird, a satellite or a hot air balloon.
Fellowes pleaded guilty to directing a laser beam towards a moving police helicopter in violation of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act of 2018.
More information at this LaserPointerSafety.com article
Schertz, Texas, US
On February 17 2019, Shorey knowingly aimed the beam of a laser pointer three times at a San Antonio Police Department helicopter. The light affected the pilot's ability to read his gauges. While the pilot landed safely, he was unable to fly for a week; news reports said he saw spots.
On November 20, 2019 Shorey pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.
He was sentenced on November 9 2020 to 51 months — over four years — in federal prison. In addition, the judge imposed an additional three years supervision after Shorey's release.
Additional details here.
Portland, Oregon, US
In 2016, Bocharnikov, who is a locksmith, was hired to unlock a stolen car. Police told him he could keep a green laser pointer found inside the car.
In July 2017, Bochnarnikov used the laser pointer to aim at trees and then, to aim four times at a Cessna 172 used by the Portland Police Bureau which was coming in for a landing. The pilot and flight officer directed ground officers to Bocharnikov's location.
Bocharnikov told the officers he did not think the laser could reach the aircraft, and he did not see the laser on the aircraft. He told investigating FBI agents that he was sorry and that "it was a stupid thing to do."
In April 2019 he pleaded guilty to one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. He was sentenced July 16 2019 to three years of probation.
From KOIN.com and KXL.com
Rockford, Illinois, US
Brenton Wells pleaded guilty on August 20, 2019 to knowingly aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft. He aimed at the aircraft "for a period of time" while standing in the backyard of a residence.
He was sentenced on December 20, 2019 to 15 months in federal prison.
From the Chicago Morning Star
Houston, Texas, US
On June 23 2018, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) agents were flying an Airbus AS350 B3 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, Brian 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.
In April 2019, Aldana pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. He faced up to five years in prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.
On July 22 2019, 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 a LaserPointerSafety.com story and update.
Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK
On March 9 2019, a West Yorkshire Police helicopter was searching for a car that had eluded a police stop, when it was repeatedly illuminated by green laser light. The search was abandoned so the helicopter could locate the laser suspect.
Ground units arrested David Gill, 50, of Leeds.
At trial he pleaded not guilty, but was convicted by a jury of endangering the safety of an aircraft. He was sentenced May 12 2019 to nine months in prison.
From the Daily Mail
Port Richey, Florida, US
On December 5 2017, a Pasco (Florida) County Sheriff's Office helicopter was illuminated about 10 times by laser light from the ground. The helicopter pilot landed in an empty parking lot, walked to the suspect's home, and detained Ryan Fluke.
Fluke told the pilot he aimed the laser for fun, and did not realize the laser beam could travel a long distance.
Fluke had 12 previous arrests in Pasco County. He was charged with misuse of laser lighting devices, a third degree felony.
He pleaded guilty November 20 2018 to aiming a laser at an aircraft and was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison, in March 2019.
Columbus, Ohio, US
On July 19 2018, Robinson aimed a green laser pointer at a police helicopter, then at a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 carrying 61 passengers. He also aimed at police helicopters sent to check the reports of laser illumination. He was charged with four counts of interfering with the operation of an aircraft.
On May 1 2019, Robinson pleaded guilty to one charge of interfering with the Southwest flight, a felony. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, one year of probation, and community service by appearing in a public service announcement about the danger to passengers and penalties for persons aiming lasers at aircraft.
Robinson said it was “a boneheaded mistake ... I didn’t know how far it would go, didn’t even think it would go as far as it did ... I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody.”
Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, UK
On September 15 2018, a police helicopter searching for suspects was illuminated three times, for 3-5 seconds each, by a green laser beam. The pilot broke off the search and flew evasively to avoid the light.
Deputies on the ground arrested Dimitrov.
He pleaded guilty on January 29 2019. His lawyer claimed Dimitrov thought he was aiming at a drone.
At sentencing on February 18 2019, the judge said the incident could have ended in a "fatal and catastrophic" outcome. He gave Dimitrov a six month jail sentence, out of a potential maximum five years under the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act.
From BBC England News. Original LaserPointerSafety.com story here.
Coalsville, Utah, US
On August 28 2017, a medical helicopter traveling from Wyoming to Utah was illuminated by green laser light which “kind of distracted us from flying” according to the pilot. On the return trip from the hospital, the helicopter also was targeted by a green beam.
A man identified at the time as Ryan Michael Kane, 25, was arrested based on location information provided by the pilot. He was charged with violating the federal law prohibiting deliberate aiming at an aircraft, or the flight path of an aircraft. The felony carries a prison sentence up to 5 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
In March 2017 Kane pleaded guilty in return for a six month prison sentence.
At sentencing on July 12 2018, Kane (now identified as Michael Ray Kane) was sentenced to three years probation. He was prohibited from owning a laser pointer during the probation, and was required to undergo periodic drug testing during that time.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball may have decided on probation after hearing that Kane had come to realize that what he did was dangerous, had cooperated with investigators, had a child, and had stopped using marijuana. Kimball told Kane “I'm satisfied that you're finally growing up, but I'm telling you, do not get in any more trouble.”
From KSL.com (November 1 2017 and July 12 2018). Original LaserPointerSafety.com story here.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Barkley was sentenced June 8 2018 to two years probation for aiming a laser pen at a Police Service of Northern Ireland helicopter hovering above a crowd at a football (soccer) match. Barkley had also previously been convicted in 2015 of the same crime, recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft, in addition to a criminal record of nine offenses.
The second offense occurred October 5 2017 during a World Cup qualifier game between Northern Ireland and Germany. The helicopter was monitoring the crowd at Windsor Park football ground when it was illuminated two times by laser light. The pilot could not fly by sight; he had to use instruments. The helicopter identified the laser as coming from a nearby home. Ground officers arrested Barkley while the helicopter retreated to the safety of Belfast City Airport.
At trial, it was noted that Barkley had a low IQ and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was smoking marijuana in his bedroom at the time of the arrest.
The judge said a jail sentence “would not help society or prevent further offending.”
During his two-year probation, Barkley would receive help with his drug problems. The judge did note that if Barkley violated probation he “will go straight to prison.”
In 2015, Barkley’s laser conviction was dealt with by a youth diversion conference because of his age at the time.
From BBC News, Belfast Telegraph and Newsletter.co.uk
Blackdown Close, East Finchley, London, UK
On March 10 2017, Chung Ching Wan was sentenced to six months imprisonment suspended for two years, given a six month curfew under electronic tag, and ordered to pay prosecution costs and £115 victim surcharge. In addition, the laser pen he used plus three other “powerful” laser pens were ordered destroyed.
His punishment came after a January 12 2017 incident where a National Police Air Service helicopter was illuminated by green laser light several times. A crew member momentarily lost vision; the pilot changed the helicopter’s direction to avoid the beam. Ground officers were directed to a location where Chung Ching Wan was arrested. He told officers he was an accountant making £45,000 (USD $60,000) per year and said “It’s really silly what I have done.”
On January 31 2017 he pleaded guilty to recklessly and negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or person in an aircraft.
From the Mirror and Police Oracle
Around June 1 2018, Soulsby was sentenced in Birmingham Crown Court to nine months in prison. He pleaded guilty to endangering the safety of an aircraft.
In October 2017, Soulsby aimed a laser for about 15 minutes at a National Police Air Service helicopter flying over Rubery in the West Midlands. The crew was searching for a missing person but instead began seeking the location of the laser.
According to police, the pilot was at “significant risk” due to the the disorienting laser light.
In December 2017, NPAS purchased laser-reducing glasses which can enable pilots to continue even when illuminated by laser light.
From Police Oracle
US: 104 hours community service, 3 years probation for Oklahoma City man who aimed laser at police helicopter
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, US
On July 29 2017, a commercial airplane landing at Will Rogers World Airport reported being illuminated by green laser light. A police helicopter sent to the area was also illuminated by the laser.
Jones was located and arrested. He pleaded guilty in December 2017 to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.
During sentencing on May 22 2018, Jones said “I’m sorry to my family and anyone I harmed in this. I’ve learned that my actions have repercussions.” According to Jones’ defense lawyer, heroin use was a factor in the laser incident. Jones said he is now sober, has made life changes and the experience has been “eye opening.”
Jones was sentenced to 104 hours of community service, and must pay restitution of about $500 to the Oklahoma City Police Department. He was given three years probation.
Both the prosecutors and defense attorney sought probation for Jones as this was his first offense. Prosecutors said “The circumstances did not suggest that pilots or passengers of the aircraft were in immediate peril.”
Separately, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is seeking a civil penalty of $17,500.
Fresno, California, US
On October 22 2017, Alvarez aimed a green laser beam several times from his car, towards a Fresno police helicopter. Police on the ground approached the car. Alvarez led them on a high-speed chase until he crashed into a center divider. He then ran from the car but was arrested in a backyard. He told police that he “thought it would be funny to point the laser at a helicopter.”
He was sentenced May 7 2018 to 18 months in prison.
Pottsville, Pennsylvania, US
Ebert was sentenced March 15 2018 to 1-1/2 to 3 years in state prison for aiming a laser at a medical helicopter. In addition to serving prison time, Ebert must pay costs, $1300 in fines, $500 to the Substance Abuse Education Fund, perform 10 hours of community service and submit a DNA sample to authorities.
On August 15, 2017, the Lehigh Valley Health Network MedEvac 7 was preparing to land when it was illuminated by a green laser beam. There was no injury to the crew. Ebert was arrested and charged with risking a catastrophe, possessing an instrument of crime, and three counts of recklessly endangering another person. He pleaded guilty to the laser-related charges.
In addition, he also pleaded guilty to charges in five other cases including: driving under the influence, fleeing or eluding police, driving under suspension, driving an unregistered vehicle, driving the wrong way, possession of a prohibited offensive weapon, possession of a small amount of marijuana, two counts each of delivery of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, and three counts of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.
From the Republican Herald
Croyland Green, Thurnby Lodge, Leicester, UK
Wright was sentenced around November 24 2017 to 20 weeks in jail, for aiming a laser pen multiple times at a police helicopter. Eighteen of the weeks were for the laser incident, with an additional two weeks for breaching an earlier suspended sentence relating to a battery charge.
During the October 10 2017 incident, the helicopter pilot was dazzled and was forced to abandon the mission.
At sentencing, Wright’s defender said Wright’s actions were “thoughtless stupidity,” that he “didn’t realize his behavior was a criminal offense,” and that he was “genuinely remorseful.”
Marana, Arizona, US
Demery was sentenced on November 28 2017 to two years probation and a $2,000 fine. He was also prohibited from possessing a laser pointer, apparently for the duration of the probation.
On April 10 2017, Demery aimed a laser pointer at a Cessna flown by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. He pleaded guilty in September 2017.
At the November 2017 sentencing hearing, Demery apologized to the judge and said he would never aim a laser pointer at a plane again.
During sentencing, the judge said “I’d hate to think some yahoo like you is pointing a laser at my plane.”
From the Arizona Daily Star
Adelaide, SA, Australia
Baldetti pleaded guilty in April 2008 to “prejudicing the safe operation of an aircraft” as well as having illegal weapons in his car.
In June 2007, a green laser beam was aimed at a police helicopter flying over Rosewater in Adelade. The pilot was temporarily blinded for several seconds.
Baldetti said at one point that the helicopter pilot aimed a spotlight at him, causing Baldetti to retaliate with the laser. More specifically, when police told him it was illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft, Baldetti replied “What about him shining a big f***ing torch at me?… He started it.”
Sentencing was delayed because the judge wanted a psychiatric report on Baldetti: “This is, on the face of it, such a mindless thing to do. I’d like to have some expert view about what underpins this…. I would be much helped to understand what happened here.”
He could have been given a maximum sentence of 14 years. He was given a jail term of two years and three months. He will be eligible for release after 10 months.
He appealed his sentence but was denied by the Court of Criminal Appeal on August 21 2008.
From ABC News, The Advertiser (original report quoted in a forum post, psychiatric report, appeal),
Tulsa, Oklahoma, US
Howell was sentenced on July 10 2017 to one year of probation, despite sentencing guidelines recommending an 18-24 month prison sentence.
On December 29 2016, JHowell 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.
St Mellons, Cardiff, Wales, UK
On August 1 2015, a Ryanair pilot reported seeing a green beam on takeoff from Bristol Airport. Two other aircraft had their flight paths altered because of the laser illumination. A police helicopter sent to locate the laser source found it was coming from a top-floor flat in eastern Cardiff. Ground police were sent.
After three minutes of knocking, Chadwick opened the door. Police found parts of a laser pen, which when re-assembled, produced green light.
The helicopter pilot had laser light go into his eye, and “had to see an optician to find out if he was fit to fly again,” according to the prosecutor at Chadwick’s October 2015 trial.
Chadwick’s barrister said “It was a laser pen he had bought for £1 and he didn’t realize or appreciate the consequences of what he was doing. He is deeply apologetic and says he wants to write a letter of apology to each of the pilots. He would never have played with a laser in the way he did if he had known it was a criminal act.”
Chadwick pleaded guilty to four counts of recklessly acting in a manner likely to endanger aircraft (the three passenger planes and the police helicopter).
The trial judge rejected Chadwick’s plea for leniency due to his father being ill: “It was protracted behaviour, over a period of 20 minutes, and officers were directed to your home found you dismantling the pen. You say you are sorry, have entered an early guilty plea to reckless endangerment, and sadly your father is unwell. But such offences are becoming all too prevalent and it must be made absolutely plain to those who may buy these pens and behave in this way that custodial sentences are inevitable in order to deter others. In my view it is far too serious to be dealt with in any other way. The consequences to those travelling on those aircraft and to others on the ground could have been catastrophic.”
The judge sentenced Chadwick to six months in jail.
He was given an additional six months on an unrelated November 2014 charge of possessing cannabis with intent to supply, which had previously been suspended.
From the Guardian and Wales Online
Zossen, Brandenburg, Germany
A 49-year-old German man was sentenced May 31 2017 to eight months in prison for aiming a laser at a police helicopter.
In August 2016, several aircraft flying in or out of Berlin Schönefeld Airport reported glare from a laser beam A police helicopter was sent to investigate, and was also hit by laser light.
The unnamed perpetrator later said in court he had not been aiming at anything specific in the night sky, and that he did not see the helicopter.
He was sentenced in Zossen (Brandenburg) District Court; Zossen is about 20 miles south of Berlin.
From Spiegel Online in original German and in Google-translated English. Thanks to Alex Hennig for bringing this to our attention.
Fontana, California, US
On February 21 2015. Asarel Felix Lombera used a $20 green laser pointer to track an Ontario, California police helicopter for about 15 seconds. The light entered the cockpit and momentarily dazed a crew member.
In February 2017 Lombera pleaded guilty. In his plea agreement, he said he was aware that what he did was dangerous and distracting. At sentencing in May, Lombera received a probationary sentence of community service and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
From The Daily Bulletin
Hornby, Christchurch, New Zealand
On April 5 2016, Tane Hemopo, 39, was arrested for repeatedly aiming a “high powered” laser pointer at two passenger planes landing at Christchurch Airport. In one case, a Virgin Airlines aircraft with 121 passengers was illuminated for about 20 seconds while at 20,000 feet altitude, then was illuminated an additional three times while on final landing approach. The pilots were dazzled but did not report more serious eye effects. He also aimed at the airport control tower.
Hemopo admitted aiming at the aircraft, but not at the cockpit. He further said he was unaware the laser light could be dangerous.
In August 2016 Hemopo pleaded guilty to charges of “causing unnecessary danger.” This has a fine of up to NZD $10,000 and one year in prison.
The Crown dropped charges of “reckless disregard for the safety of others,” which has a maximum penalty of 14 years.
On September 28 2016, Hemopo failed to appear for sentencing. The judge issued an arrest warrant for Hemopo.
On December 1 2016, Hemopo was sentenced to 10 weeks in jail.
From Stuff.co.nz and the New Zealand Herald.
Johnson County, Texas, US
On July 22 2015, numerous aircraft including commercial and FedEx flights reported being illuminated by laser light. A Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter investigating the reports was also hit. Officers traced the beam to a home where Siferd was present.
He initially denied using a laser until officers told him they had video showing the beam coming from the house. Siferd then admitted he had aimed at the helicopter, but said he did not realize the beam could go all the way to the aircraft.
In March 2016 Siferd pleaded guilty to a felony indictment. In October 2016 he was sentenced to six months in a federal prison.
From the original LaserPointerSafety.com story, as updated October 15 2016.
Kansas City, Missouri, US
Rogers was sentenced on January 17 2017 to three years in federal prison without parole.
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.
Bakersfield, California, US
On September 28 2015, Bowser was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison plus three years of supervised release and a $10,000 “special assessment fee”, for aiming a “powerful green laser” at a Kern County Sheriff’s Office helicopter.
From an FBI press release: “In June , a federal jury found Bowser guilty of aiming 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, 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 published a public apology, which said that the incident had ruined his life: “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.”
Original LaserPointerSafety.com story here; story with complete apology letter here.
Santa Ana, California, US
Lopez was sentenced August 23 2016 to 15 months in federal prison for intentionally aiming a laser pointer at an Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopter.
On November 14, 2015, the OCSD helicopter was responding to a traffic accident, looking for any victims who may have been thrown from an overturned vehicle. The helicopter was illuminated multiple times by green laser light. The tactical flight officer called the multiple strikes “relentless.”
The helicopter crew was able to direct police on the ground to the backyard of a residence. Lopez was arrested on state charges of pointing a laser at an aircraft. After an investigation conducted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Ana Police Department and the FBI, Lopez was indicted on federal charges which culminated in his August 2016 prison sentence.
Boardman, Ohio, US
On June 15 2013, Krzysztofiak aimed a laser pointer at a medical helicopter coming to land at Akron Children’s Hospital in Boardman, Ohio. In January 2014, he pleaded guilty to violating the 2012 federal law making it illegal to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, or the flight path of an aircraft.
In May 2014 Krzysztofiak was sentenced to three years probation, nine months home monitoring, and 200 hours of community service. He also was required to submit to regular drug and alcohol testing, and to be in a detoxification program. (He had previous court records for drug and probation violations in 2005 and 2010.)
However, on August 24 2016, Krzysztofiak was sentenced to two years in federal prison for violating his probation. The nature of the violation was not listed in court records.
New Parks, Leicester, UK
On March 9 2016, the two men aimed the green beam of a laser pen at a police helicopter, forcing it to abort its mission to find a missing person. The helicopter pilot directed ground officers to a park where they found Jayes and Plaskiewicz. Each said the other was using the laser.
They pleaded guilty to charges of recklessly or negligently endangering the safety of an aircraft and those traveling within it.
On July 22 2016, Jayes was sentenced to eight months in jail, and Plaskiewicz was sentenced to six months. (Jayes previously had 71 convictions on his criminal record and was in breach of a community order at the time of his arrest.)
Greenisland, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
On September 19 2015, Armstrong repeatedly aimed a green laser at a Police Service of Northern Ireland helicopter. At trial, he said he was annoyed by the aircraft flying over his house. The laser was aimed at least five times, one of which lasted about 30 seconds continuously on the helicopter.
The judge said Armstrong’s actions could have resulted in a crash, and thus warranted a prison sentence. He was sentenced around April 20 2016.
From the Belfast Telegraph
Resides in Bakersfield, California, US; a citizen of Mexico
Sometime in 2015, Sahagun aimed a green laser pointer at a Kern County sheriff’s helicopter. He was convicted on April 18 2016 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Stevenston, North Ayrshire, Scotland
In September 2014, a Police Scotland helicopter was illuminated several times with green laser light while looking for a gunman. The pilot had to take evasive action. The beam was tracked to Ryan’s home. Ryan told officers, “I’m sorry, it was me.”
In December 2015, Ryan admitted “culpable and reckless conduct.” He was sentenced to one year in jail.
From the Scotsman and BBC News
Edison Grove, Hull, UK
On January 9 2016, Houghton aimed a £9 (USD $13) laser pen at a Humberside Police helicopter. He later pleaded guilty. On February 18 2016, he was sentenced at Hull Magistrates Court to 20 weeks in prison.
Fresno, California, US
On March 15 2015, Quenga illuminated a Fresno Police Department helicopter with a green laser beam about six times over ten minutes. A patrol car sent to the location, to find the laser source, was broadsided by a civilian SUV. Both officers had serious injuries; the SUV occupants suffered minor injuries. When Quenga was found by other officers, he had been listening to police radios and knew they were looking for him.
In October 2015, Quenga pleaded guilty. On January 19 2016, Quenga was sentenced to six months in prison, and three years supervised release.
Quenga’s troubles may not be over. Ars Technica quoted prosecutor Karen Escobar as saying “We are still litigating the restitution portion of the case. In that regard, a hearing on restitution has been set for May 16. We are seeking the uninsured losses in connection with the accident of the first responders that Quenga was monitoring via his police radio scanner iPhone app."
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Sharma was given a one year conditional discharge sentence, plus 30 hours of community service, on December 21 2015 for aiming a laser pointer at a Winnipeg city police helicopter in June 2015. The aircrew was temporarily distracted and disoriented.
Sharma’s lawyer said the teen “was goofing around to see how high [the laser] could project into the sky”, and did not intend to create a hazard.
Oakland, California, US
On June 7 2014, Palomino aimed a laser at a California Highway Patrol helicopter that had to break off a search to deal with the laser. 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!’”
He was indicted August 28 2014, and later pleaded guilty to the crime.
On 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.
Dallas, Texas, US
On May 30 2015, Chapa was in his driveway when he aimed a laser pointer at a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter. He was arrested on September 23, and pleaded guilty on November 3. Chapa was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison on February 18 2016.
Gardenia, California, US
Gomez pleaded no contest September 14 2015 to aiming a high-powered green laser at an aircraft, and then at Los Angeles County fire and police helicopters on February 14 2015. Gomez, of Gardenia Calif., was sentenced November 2 2015 to one year in jail and three years probation.
Concord, North Carolina, US
On May 6, 2014, Christopher Funk aimed a laser pointer at a helicopter containing a student pilot and instructor. The aircraft was targeted as it practiced landing at the Cape Fear (N.C.) Regional Jetport near Oak Island. The helicopter moved to the far end of the runway for another practice landing but was again targeted. Funk was located by police; he told them he was drunk and did not remember much of the incident.
On May 11 2015, Funk pleaded guilty. He was sentenced in federal court on November 4 2015 to five years probation and 200 hours of community service.
Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, UK
On March 27 2015, a Humberside police helicopter was illuminated by laser light. On August 3 2015, Brown admitted the offense of shining a light so as to distract or dazzle a pilot.
Brown was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge, and was ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £15 and costs of £85 by North Lincolnshire magistrates.
Portland, Oregon, US
Bukucs was sentenced to 6 months in federal prison on March 16 2015 for two felony counts of aiming a laser pointer at commercial jetliners as they approached Portland International Airport in October 2013.
On July 15, 2014, Bukucs pleaded guilty to aiming his green laser at United Airlines Flight 1406 and Jet Blue Flight 1205 as they flew over his apartment in Northeast Portland on October 13, 2013. His arrest occurred after intense air and ground surveillance by FBI agents and police officers. Investigators reported over 100 laser strikes from the vicinity of defendant’s apartment in 2013, the government stated to the court.
After his prison term, Bukucs must also serve three years of supervised release. From an FBI news release.
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.
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.
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.
Austin, Texas, US
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.
Hubbard, Ohio, US
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wellington (Palm Beach area), Florida, US
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.”
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
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.
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.”
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
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, upheld Nov. 2016)
Clovis, California, US
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.
As of March 2014, 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
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.
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.
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.”
Luton, Bedfordshire, UK
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.
Wales: Suspended 5-month sentence, 200 hours community service, £165 fine for lasing helicopter 10 times
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.
Columbus, Ohio, US
On March 21 2013, Rademacher aimed a blue laser at a Columbus police helicopter “because he was bored.” One pilot said it was the brightest laser he had ever seen. The pilots were able to locate the source, and directed ground units to Rademacher’s home. He pleaded guilty in September 2013 to one felony count of possession of criminal tools; a more-serious charge of interfering with the operation of an aircraft with a laser was dismissed as part of the plea agreement. On November 7 2013, Rademacher was sentenced to 45 days in the Franklin County jail and 18 months of probation. If he violates probation, he will be imprisoned for 12 months.
Compton, California, US
On September 23 2011, Rogers was arrested for illuminating a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter with a green laser. This came as the helicopter was searching for the source of a laser that illuminated a commercial airplane landing at Los Angeles International Airport.
According to a January 2014 article in Smithsonian Air & Space magazine, Rogers “pleaded no contest and was sentenced to five days in jail, three years probation, and 180 hours of community service.” The dates of the plea and the sentence are not known.
Donna, Texas, US
On September 25 2013, Magarito Tristan III was sentenced to 18 months in prison, plus an additional two years of supervised release following his term, for aiming a laser pointer at a Customs and Border Patrol helicopter. The 28-year-old from Donna, Texas, had previously pleaded guilty in July 2013 to one felony count of aiming a laser at an aircraft. He has been in custody since the March 7 2013 incident. The pilot wrote to the court that he felt he was under attack and that bullets would be fired at the aircraft.
US: Jail, probation, community service for "bored" Kentucky man who aimed gunsight at police helicopter
Lexington, Kentucky, US
On September 4 2013, French pleaded guilty in state court to second-degree wanton endangerment. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail; 30 days will be served while the remaining 11 months will be probated for two years. He is also required to complete 100 hours of community service, and to forfeit his gun and laser. On August 24 2013, while working as a security guard, French aimed a green laser attached to his 9mm pistol at a police helicopter. He had told police he did this because he was bored and pointed the laser on his gun at the helicopter to test its range.
Ryhope, Tyne and Wear, UK
On September 5 2013, Brace was fined £250 (USD $390) for directing or shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot.. On August 17 2013, Brace aimed at a helicopter being flown by a commercial pilot with two Northumbria Police officers on board. He later told police that he wanted to see how far the laser pen could reach, and that he did not realize the effect it would have on the pilot. During sentencing, the judge told Brace "I regret that the offense you are charged with can only be punished with a fine, many people will feel that is inadequate."
Woodvale, Western Australia, Australia
On September 4 2013, Manning was fined AUS $10,000 (USD $9,140) for causing fear with a laser or light. On August 3 2013, a police helicopter was conducting a search in the Perth suburb of Woodvale when it was hit a number of times by a bright green laser light. The pilot had “immediate distress” and took evasive action. Ground officers arrested Manning at his home in Woodvale. He was later found guilty in Joondalup magistrates court.
Hebburn, Tyne and Wear, UK
Rayner and GIlbert were each fined £100 (USD $155), plus they had to pay court costs of £85 and a victim surcharge of £20. They pleaded guilty August 27 2013 to shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle the pilot. On May 8 2013, the couple were in bed, aiming a laser pen at a nearby dog, when they then aimed it at a police helicopter searching for a missing 11-year-old boy. The pilot traced the beam back to a house in Hebburn where they were found in a back bedroom. They initially denied having a laser but then officers found it under the mattress. At trial, magistrates were told it was not an imprisonable offense, so the pair could only be fined or discharged. The Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner said “This was extremely reckless behavior, which could have had horrific consequences…. This relatively small fine does mean offenders appear to have been let off somewhat lightly…”
Dallas, Texas, US
On July 25 2013, Santodomingo was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, for the January 28 2013 lasing of a helicopter. 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. He pleaded guilty on February 28 2013.
Omaha, Nebraska, US
On July 22 2013, Smith was sentenced to two years in federal prison to be followed by a 3-year term of supervised release. He had been convicted April 24 2013 of aiming a laser at an Omaha police helicopter “six or seven times” on July 11 2012. The police were looking for the source of an earlier red laser aimed at a Southwest Airlines flight that was landing in Omaha. According to one news report, Smith had previously been fined $9,000 by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
St. Louis area, Missouri, US
On April 11 2013, Smith was sentenced to two years of probation, two months of home confinement and 40 hours of community service for the May 18 2012 lasing of a police helicopter.
On April 10 2013, Waistle was given a six-month suspended sentence and 150 hours of unpaid work, for aiming a laser pen at a Cleveland Police helicopter. Leaving the courtroom, Waistle put two fingers up (photo above) which the Daily Star wrote was “defiant”.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
On April 10 2013, Dangler was sentenced to three months in jail plus seven months home confinement and three years supervised release, for aiming a green laser at a news media helicopter on July 18 2012. He pleaded guilty on October 17 2012. Dangler still faces FAA civil charges that could result in a penalty up to $11,000.
North Hollywood, California, US
On March 25 2013, Gardenhire was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for aiming a “commercial grade” green laser pointer at an aircraft and a police helicopter on March 29 2012. He could have received five years in prison. The crime has a maximum prison term of up to five years. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended an 18-24 month penalty, but U.S. DIstrict Judge Stephen Wilson said he wanted to send a message that Gardenhire’s behavior was “reckless and very dangerous.”
As of March 25 2013, Gardenhire remains free on bond pending an appeal hearing in April 2013.
UPDATED April 30 2015: A three-judge federal appeals court threw out Gardenhire’s 30-month sentence. They found that although Gardenhire was aware that laser misuse could cause blindness, 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.” The appeals court specifically noted that U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson said the behavior was “reckless” but that this view was “determined to be erroneous.” They asked for a new sentencing hearing, from a new judge in the federal district of Los Angeles. Details at this LaserPointerSafety.com news item.
Parsippany, New Jersey, US
On December 31 2004, Banach aimed a laser pointer at a police helicopter searching for the source of a laser that illuminated a charter jet two nights earlier. Banach was charged with terrorism under the Patriot Act in a high-profile case attracting media attention worldwide. He faced 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Under a plea bargain, Banach pleaded guilty to shining a laser beam at an airplane (another source says the charge was interfering with the operator of a mass transit vehicle). Charges of lying to the FBI were dropped. On February 15 2008 he was sentenced to two years probation with no fines or other penalties. His lawyer also says the judge restored Banach’s reputation. The New York Times reported that Banach had received threatening letters and had lost two jobs.
Roseville, California, US
On March 16 2009, Valladares aimed a green laser at a sheriff's helicopter searching for the person who earlier illuminated a commercial airplane. Valladares pleaded guilty in June 2009 to interfering with the safe operation of the helicopter, but denied illuminating the airplane. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison, plus three years of probation, in October 2009.
Orange, California, US
On May 21 2008, Welch aimed a laser at two commercial jets landing at John Wayne Airport. He was found guilty in April 2009 of interfering with pilots. Welch was sentenced November 2 2009.
Rocklin, California, US
In July 2009, Downie aimed a laser at a sheriff's helicopter. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts of discharging a laser at an aircraft. Downie was sentenced January 22 2010.
Prescott, Arizona, US
On December 9 2009, Brenner illuminated an Arizona police helicopter with a green laser pointer. He was found guilty of two counts of endangerment in April 2010. Brenner was sentenced on May 24 2010 to two years on each count, with the terms to run concurrently. He was also ordered to pay $500 in court costs.
On September 1 2010, Hodgkinson and Ramsay were arrested for aiming a laser pen at a police helicopter. They were found guilty of directing or shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot on September 14 2010. They were fined $400 each.
Romanian migrant, working in UK
On August 16 2010, Moldovan illuminated an RAF Tornado jet for up to ten seconds. He pleaded guilty to culpably and recklessly endangering a military aircraft on September 16 2010.
Orland, California, US
On October 21 2009, Nighswander aimed a green laser at a California Highway Patrol helicopter at least four times. He was sentenced September 28 2010 for using a laser to interfere with an aircraft.
Cathedral City (near Palm Springs), California, US
On June 3 2009, Wells aimed a green laser at a California Highway Patrol helicopter. In July 2010, he pleaded guilty to the felony of willfully interfering with an operator of an aircraft. Wells was sentenced October 25 2010. The assistant U.S. attorney said "This was a very serious crime that deserved prison time."
Medford, Massachusetts, US
On December 8 2007, Sasso lased a Massachusetts state police helicopter at least five times. He denied using the laser until police saw a laser pointer on his bedside table. Eleven lasers were seized from his apartment. Sasso was found guilty January 11 2011 of willfully interfering with an aircraft operator with reckless disregard for human life and making false statements.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
On August 19 2009, Bautista aimed a laser through a tree; it illuminated a police helicopter 2.5 miles away. One count of behavior that endangers an aircraft was dismissed (the maximum penalty was 5 years in prison and a $100,000 fine). Bautista was found guilty on June 23 2010 of projecting a bright light source to create a hazard to aviation safety. The judge said the February 18 2011 sentence was for "general deterrence … to make the public aware of the potential consequences of a laser on aircrafts."
Silver Springs Shores, Marion County, Florida, US
On December 2 2010, Fowler aimed a blue laser pointer at a sheriff's helicopter. He said "I didn't even think the laser pointer could reach that far." Under a plea bargain, on March 10 2011 Fowler admitted a third-degree felony of pointing a laser light at a driver or pilot. He could have received up to five years in prison.
Columbus, Ohio, US
On October 20 2010, Lyman aimed a laser pointer at a Columbus OH police helicopter. He pleaded guilty on March 15 2011 to a misdemeanor count of interfering with operation of an aircraft. Lyman apologized and said "I didn't understand what I did would have that effect." The judge sentenced Lyman to the two days in jail he had served.
Chicago, Illinois, US
On March 17 2011, Slater and another person aimed a laser at a commercial aircraft and then at a police helicopter. Slater pleaded guilty on April 1 2011 for the misdemeanor of unlawful use of a weapon.
Williamsport, Pennsylvania, US
On April 30 2008, Gautieri illuminated a police helicopter in Philadelphia. He was sentenced April 13 2011 to 33 months in prison for interference with an aircraft. The judge called Gautieri a "liar" for claiming he was using the laser to follow stars.
North Shields, North Tyneside, UK
On August 22 2010, after drinking two cans of beer, Quantrill repeatedly aimed a laser at a Northumbria Police helicopter. He pleaded guilty to recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft. At his sentencing April 15 2011, the judge said, "Others should know if they behave as you did they are likely to go to prison."
In addition to the 6 month prison term, Quantrill "had a dream of being in the airforce [RAF] but this conviction has already destroyed that.”
Maidstone, Kent, UK
On June 24 2010, Tomlinson deliberately tracked a Kent and Essex police helicopter. The pilot had to take a hand off the controls in order to shield his eyes. Tomlinson was charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a way likely to endanger an aircraft. At sentencing on April 15 2011, the judge gave Tomlinson an 8-month jail term, as a deterrent to others.
Lynden, Washington, US
On September 22 2010, Groen aimed a spotlight (not a laser) at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter, at a time when local residents had been complaining about border agents' actions. On April 28 2011, a jury found Groen not guilty of interfering with the authorized operation of an aircraft. They found him guilty of incapacitation of an individual during authorized operation of an aircraft.
Groen was sentenced on August 4 2011 to two months in prison, 90 days of home detention, 120 hours of community service, three years of community supervision and a $5,000 fine.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
In October 2008, Tavarez aimed a laser at a Philadelphia police helicopter. The pilot was temporarily blinded, felt a sudden intense pain in his eye, and “lost control”; his co-pilot took over. Tavarez was sentenced May 13 2011.
Fostoria, Ohio, US
On July 20 2010, Manz aimed 50 milliwatt handheld lasers at river barges, airplanes and a police helicopter in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. He pleaded guilty on May 20 2011 to lying to FBI agents. Manz could have received up to 30 months in prison.
Also involved were David Erminger, 28, and Matthew Mauck, 34. They were placed on one-year diversion on June 22 2011. The criminal charges against them will be erased if they stay out of trouble (no new charges) during the next year.
New Farm (Brisbane), Queensland, Australia
On May 20 2011, Raine aimed a laser pointer at Channel 9's helicopter. He was convicted June 29 2011 of endangering the safe use of a vehicle. Raine said the lasing was stupid and he meant no harm.
Lakeland, Florida, US
On November 21 2010, Hazlitt aimed a green laser pointer at a sheriff's department helicopter because he was "tired of hearing" the helicopter. Hazlitt was sentenced June 2 2011 to five years probation on federal charges of interfering with the operation of a helicopter.
The judge ruled that Hazlitt’s laser pointer was not a “dangerous weapon” under the circumstances of the case. This finding helped reduce the severity of Hazlitt’s sentence; he could have received up to 20 years in prison.
In February 2010, a 21-year-old repeatedly aimed a laser at a police helicopter. He could have received 90 days in jail. Instead, he was convicted of "aviation sabotage" and received a suspended sentence with community service, in June 2011.
Shasta Lake, California, US
In December 2010, Foster aimed a laser at a California Highway Patrol helicopter. Under a plea bargain, two felony charges were dropped (assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, and discharging a laser). He could have faced four years in prison if convicted on the felonies.
Foster pleaded no contest to misdemeanors of interfering with an aircraft, and pointing a laser at a peace officer. He was sentenced June 20 2011 to time served (about 6 months) and was ordered to 100 hours of community service giving presentations on the dangers of laser pointers.
Brookfield (Chicago area) Illinois, US
On June 16 2010 (and possibly as early as April 30), Heeringa aimed a green laser at a cargo plane. The pilot videotaped the incident and used Google Maps to tell police the location. Heeringa pleaded guilty in a plea bargain to misdemeanor counts of aggravated assault and battery and was sentenced July 12 2011.
On March 12 2011, Taylor aimed a green laser pen multiple times at a Northumbria Police helicopter. The judge said "This sort of behaviour is not a game or prank, it is extremely serious …. they are committing a criminal offence." Taylor was sentenced in July 2011 for recklessly acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft.
On June 6 2011, Oliver aimed a laser pen at a Northumbria Police helicopter. The judge called Oliver "a dangerous idiot." Oliver was sentenced July 26 2011 for directing a light at an aircraft to distract a pilot.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
On January 5 2011, Saulnier aimed a green laser pointer at three aircraft. He was tracked by a police helicopter and arrested. Saulnier pleaded guilty on July 26 2011 to an unknown charge.
North Kensington (London), UK
On March 6, 2011, Ali lased a police helicopter "to see how far it would go." The judge stated “This was an extremely serious offence which could have ended in several fatalities.” Ali pleaded guilty June 24 to endangering the safety of an aircraft and was sentenced July 28 2011.
Small Heath, Birmingham, UK
On March 28 2011, Bough aimed at laser pointer at a police helicopter. He tried to claim he was aiming to help find a lost puppy; the judge said this "did not ring true." Bough pleaded guilty to endangering the safety of an aircraft and was sentenced August 24 2011.
Newport, Wales, UK
On October 12 2010, McDonnell-Jones used a laser pen to illuminate a police helicopter for about five minutes. The man had purchased the green laser the day before. He admitted aiming the laser outdoors but said he did not see the aircraft. He was sentenced in September 2011.
Warwick, Rhode Island, US
On September 15 2010, Aquino aimed a green laser at a boat, car, and commercial airliner. Prosecutors asked for two years in prison. He was sentenced September 12 2011. In addition to the above penalties, Aquino must undergo mental health counseling and submit to 72 drug tests each year.
Orlando, Florida, US
On April 13 2010, Anderson was arrested for aiming a green laser at an Orange County (FL) sheriff's helicopter. He pleaded guilty in December 2010, and was sentenced in July 2011 on a federal charge of interfering with the operation of an aircraft.
His case was especially interesting since it paralleled the case of Jason Dennis McGuire who was arrested March 2010 in Orlando for firing a handgun at an Orange County Sheriff’s Office helicopter. McGuire was sentenced in April 2011 to 12.5 years in prison.
On September 11 2011, French illuminated a commercial flight. A West Midlands Air Support helicopter was sent to investigate and was also lased by French. He pleaded guilty to lasing the police helicopter and on October 20 2011 was sentenced to six months in jail. French's lawyer said he had learning difficulties and was "immature."
Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside UK
On October 22 2011, Checkley lased a St Helens police air support helicopter. He pleaded guilty to “acting recklessly or negligently in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft”. On November 23 2011, Checkley was sentenced to four months in jail, and his laser pen was destroyed by police.
Hollywood, California US
On July 28 2011, Gable was arrested for aiming a green laser at a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter. On December 8 2011, he pleaded guilty to one felony count of "discharge of a laser at an occupied aircraft". In exchange for the guilty plea, other charges were dropped that could have put Gable in jail for three years.
At sentencing on January 12 2012, he received 10 days in jail plus three years probation. He had been expected to receive 200 hours of community work service, but that provision appears to have been dropped since the December 8 guilty plea.
The case received widespread publicity because Gable is the grandson of actor Clark Gable, famed as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind and for appearing in 66 other movies.
Bakersfield, California US
On November 6 2010, Gentry was arrested for aiming a laser four times at a Kern County Sheriff's Office helicopter. The pilot suffered temporary spots in his eyes, and was disoriented enough that the aircraft went off course. On January 9 2012, Gentry was sentenced to time served (he had been in jail seven months) and one year of probation.
On September 12 2009, Paton repeatedly aimed his green laser at a police helicopter that was searching for two lost 4-year-olds. The crew filmed the location of the laser, enabling ground officers to easily find and arrest Paton. In April 2012, he was sentenced to nine months in jail for endangering the crew.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
On November 1 2011, Willingham aimed a green laser multiple times at a Virginia Beach police helicopter. During the 20-minute long incident, one of the pilots had black spots in one eye and could not see his instruments. On May 18 2012, Willingham was sentenced in federal court to five years probation and a $5,000 fine.
On August 16 2010, McConnell aimed a laser into the cockpit of a police helicopter. The crew broke off their mission to deal with the laser. They located McConnell and ground crews arrested him. On June 18 2012, McConnell was sentenced to two months of house arrest, four months with a 10 pm to 5 am curfew, six months of probation, 25 hours of community service, and counseling. In addition, he is not permitted to possess a laser pointer.
Weston-super-Mare, Avon, UK
On May 12 2012, Nicholls aimed a blue laser pen at a police helicopter for about six minutes. On July 16 2012, he pleaded guilty to one count of recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or people in an aircraft. He was sentenced to six months in jail.
Phoenix, Arizona, US
On November 9 2011, Cerise aimed a green laser at two commercial aircraft. One was forced to veer off of a final approach, to avoid the laser light. A police helicopter sent to investigate was also lased. Ground units found a laser hidden in Cerise's couch cushions. Cerise eventually admitted aiming at the aircraft to see how far it could go. Authorities said three pilots were temporarily blinded during the incidents.
On August 8 2012, Cerise was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years supervised probation.
Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
In August 2012, Shackleton was sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid community service, and was ordered to pay £85 in court costs, for shining a laser at South Yorkshire’s police helicopter. Neil Shackleton aimed the laser from his bedroom window to the helicopter as it flew two miles away. On-board cameras helped determine the laser’s location, and ground units arrested Shackleton.
US: 1 year in jail and 2 years probation, partner gets 60 days community service and three years probation
Los Angeles, California, US
On July 4 2011, Atkins and Jiminez were arrested on multiple charges for lasing a LAPD helicopter. They also were suspected of previous incidents of aiming at airlines landing at Los Angeles International Airport. On November 1 2012, Atkins was sentenced to one year in county jail, two years probation, and $200 in fines and fees. Jiminez was sentenced in September 2012 to 60 days of Caltrans service and three years probation.
Port Kennedy, Perth, Western Australia
On October 25 2012, Giguere and Trauttmansdorff were each fined AUS $10,000 for lasing a police helicopter on July 20 2012. In addition, the conviction jeopardizes the ability of Giguere, a Canadian citizen, to stay in Australia on a partner provisional visa. Guigere (pictured above demonstrating how she aimed the laser) said in an interview that the fine would adversely affect her plans to start a business and buy land for a home.