California Man Gets 14 Years In Prison For Aiming Laser Pointer At Police Helicopter

Plane cockpit pilot laser pointerFBI Video ScreenshotSimulation of what a laser pointer can do to a pilot.

A California man who aimed a laser pointer at a Fresno Police helicopter two years ago has been sentenced to 14 years in prison, according to the FBI.

In December, Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, 26, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23 were found guilty of using the high-powered laser pointer in an attempt to interfere with the helicopter.

The helicopter had responded to their apartment complex to investigate reports of a laser being pointed at an emergency transport helicopter, according to an FBI report.

Coleman will be sentenced in May, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $US250,000 fine.

Last month, the FBI stepped up its efforts to stop “lasing,” which can temporarily blind pilots and is rising in popularity — reports of incidents are up tenfold since the FBI and FAA started keeping track in 2005. That added up to nearly 4,000 laser strikes in 2013, about 11 per day. Reporting information that leads to the arrest of an offender can net you a $US10,000 reward from the Bureau.

It’s a federal felony to knowingly aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, punishable by up to five years in prison and an $US250,000 fine. The judge considered Rodriguez’s criminal past, including probation violations and affiliation with the Bulldog gang, in his sentencing.

In a statement, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents nearly 50,000 pilots in the U.S. and Canada, commended the decision, saying, “Mr. Rodriguez has been convicted of deliberately aiming a high-powered laser at multiple aircraft, and we hope that his sentencing, along with the future sentencing of his accomplice, will help to spread the message to others that intentionally aiming a laser at an aircraft is not a prank, but a federal crime with very serious consequences.”

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