Shine Laser at Aircraft Go To Federal Prison!
I don't seem to recall exactly when hand held lasers became both cheap and popular, but since that time I would guess that there are few law enforcement helicopter crews in the country (probably throughout the world) who have not been hit with a laser at least once. I have been in the cockpit at least three occasions when a laser beam began bouncing off of the windscreen, instrument panel, etc.
There are multiple reasons why shining a laser (even a flashlight) at an aircraft is prohibited by both state and federal law, beginning with potential damage to the eye that a laser can cause. Regardless, it seems that there are still plenty of people who are willing to direct their hand held laser or flashlight at an airliner or even a police helicopter with little thought that they really, really, might end up in prison.
Enter 30 year old Baltazar Valladares of Roseville Ca., near Sacramento, who was just sentenced to 37 months in Federal prison this week for targeting both a South West Airline flight coming into Sacramento International Airport, and a short time later hitting the Sacramento Sheriff's Helicopter with the same laser.
Apparently the crew of the Sacramento Sheriff's helicopter was a little sharper than what Valladares expected as they quickly pinpointed the laser as coming from his residence. It was not long before Roseville Police were knocking on his door, and subsequently conducting a legal search of his residence. The laser was located in two separate pieces, hidden in two separate locations within the residence.
The investigation into the incident was continued by the FBI as well as Roseville Police Dept., and even the Federal Air Marshals Service since it involved a passenger airliner. The end result was the sentencing announced this week by U.S. Attorney Lawrence G. Brown. Mr. Valladares will spend 37 months in Federal prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release. I am sure that Valladares' prior criminal record did not do him any favors in avoiding a federal prison sentence.
Most police helicoper crews are now operating on night vision goggles. Which means that shining a flashlight at a law enforcement helicopter is just as disruptive as a laser, considering the goggles are magnifying the light somewhere around 30,000 times. Normally a stern warning over the P.A. of their pending felony arrest is enough to stop the behavior, but it distracts the crew and takes important time away from the police mission which very often involves searching for a violent fleeing felon. Unfortunately crime is inconvenient to everyone.
Let's hope that someday people will actually start to make the connection in their brain; "Shine a laser or light at an aircraft, EXPECT to go to jail."