By George Bao Aug. 23, 2016
SANTA ANA, California – Don’t think to aim laser at an airplane is fun, a Santa Ana man who intentionally aimed a laser pointer at a law enforcement helicopter investigating a serious traffic accident was sentenced Monday to 15 months in federal prison.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday that Mario Deleon Lopez, 35, was sentenced Monday by United States District Judge Andrew J. Guilford, who said the offense was a “distraction” to the people in the air and that “people could die.”
Lopez pleaded guilty in March to a felony offense of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft and admitted that he pointed a green laser at a helicopter operated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), according to DOJ.
On the evening of November 14, 2015, OCSD tactical flight deputies responded to a traffic accident in Santa Ana involving an overturned vehicle. The deputies were searching the area to see whether anyone had been thrown from the vehicle when their helicopter was struck with laser beam.
The helicopter was struck multiple times with a green laser that illuminated the helicopter’s cockpit in an attack the tactical flight officer called “relentless,” DOJ said in a press release.
Following the laser attacks, the deputies, along with the Santa Ana Police Department, successfully tracked the source of the laser to a suspect located in the backyard of a residence in Santa Ana.
Police on the ground responded to the residence and took Lopez into custody on state charges of pointing a laser at an aircraft. Lopez subsequently posted bail and was released from local custody while the federal investigation continued and culminated with the filing of the indictment.
“This defendant knew that pointing the laser at the helicopter could cause the pilot blindness and endanger those operating the aircraft, but committed the crime anyway,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker.
“This was a senseless crime that warrants the sentence imposed by the court.”
Statistics show that reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years as laser devices have become more affordable and widely available.
In addition, technology has improved the effectiveness of laser devices, with a resulting increase in the potential safety hazards for pilots operating aircraft, as well as their passengers and crew.
Such safety hazards include temporary distraction and impaired vision, which is particularly dangerous during the critical takeoff or landing phase of flight.
California consistently leads the nation in reports of laser attacks.
Reports said in 2014, the FAA reported 3,894 laser events in the U.S., and pilots have already experienced more than 2,750 laser incidents in 2015.