Four indicted for pointing lasers at aircraft
FRESNO — A federal grand jury returned three indictments Thursday charging three men and a woman under new federal legislation that makes it a crime to point the beam of a laser at an aircraft, announced U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner and Herbert M. Brown, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Sacramento field office.
The federal statute used to charge the defendants is part of a law passed last year by President Obama that makes it a federal crime to knowingly aim the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft, the Eastern District of California said in a press release issued Thursday. The offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The indictments mark the first time such charges have been brought in the EDA, a judicial district that covers 34 counties in the eastern portion of the state, the press release further states.
According to the EDA, reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years as powerful laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. According to the FBI, there were 3,482 aircraft laser strikes reported in the U.S. in 2012, averaging 10 strikes a day. So far this year, laser strikes have increased up to 11 strikes a day. Laser beams pose a serious safety hazard to flight operations. The focused beams of a laser remain powerful at extended viewing distances and can expose pilots and their crew members and passengers to radiation levels above those considered to be flight safe, the press release states. Brief exposure to even a relatively low-powered laser beam can cause discomfort and temporary visual impairments such as glare, flash blindness and after images. Prolonged exposure to high-powered laser beams has resulted in permanent eye injury.
“Laser strikes on aircraft are extremely dangerous,” said Wagner in the press release. “Those who target aircraft with lasers should know that it is a federal crime, and it will be prosecuted.”
Brett Lee Scott, 25, of Bakersfield, was charged with four counts of aiming a laser pointer at Air-1, a Kern County sheriff helicopter. Scott was also charged with four counts of attempting to interfere with the safe operation of Air-1, an offense that was enacted in 2001 under the U.S. Patriot Act and carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Clovis residents Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, aka Javier Rodrigues, 26, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, were charged with two counts of aiming a laser pointer at Air George, an emergency transport ambulance of Children’s Hospital Central California, and Air-1, a Fresno Police Department helicopter. They were also charged with conspiring to interfere with the safe operation of the helicopters and two counts of attempting to interfere with their safe operation. According to the indictment, Scott and Coleman deliberately targeted Air George while it was en route to transport a patient to the hospital.
Charles Conrad Mahaffey, 22, also of Clovis, was charged with one count of aiming a laser pointer at Eagle 1, a Fresno County sheriff helicopter, and one count of attempting to interfere with the safe operation of the helicopter.
The defendants face a maximum prison term of 20 years as to each charge of interfering with the safe operation of an aircraft and a maximum prison term of five years as to each charge of pointing a laser at an aircraft.