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US: Four years for laser pointer at helicopter
Jamie Allen Downie, 35, was given the sentence Friday January 22 2010 by Placer County Superior Court Judge Joseph O’Flaherty after he entered a plea of guilty to two felony counts of discharging a laser at an aircraft.
Four years in prison for aiming a laser pointer at a helicopter
Pointing a laser beam at an aircraft in flight is a federal offense. A laser has the potential of blinding and disabling the pilot, which in turn could lead to the crash of the aircraft. Had he been prosecuted in federal court, Downie could have faced a longer prison sentence, according to Placer County Sheriff’s Sgt. Van Bogardus, the pilot who was the victim in the laser incident in Rocklin.
Before imposing the sentence, Judge O’Flaherty expressed disappointment with Downie: “You defendants find ways to uselessly get into trouble here, but I guess that’s why a lot of people are in jail,” he said.
Bogardus gave a statement to the court, pointing out the danger of shining a laser beam at an aircraft pilot. “You don’t have time to blink,” Bogardus said. “And when these lasers strike your eye, you’re responsible not only for yourself and your air crew, but you’re also responsible for the community that you’re flying the aircraft over.”
Bogardus said lasers are readily available in stores and the Internet and that the pointing of them at aircraft has become a growing and alarming trend. “There’s already been an American airline pilot who’s lost his medical to fly because his eye was struck with a laser,” he said. “You cannot blink fast enough. Once it hits your retina, it’s done.”
Prosecutor Joseph Hoffmann of the Placer County District Attorney’s Office said Downie twice pointed the laser at the Sheriff’s helicopter on July 16, leading to the two felony counts being filed against him.
Bogardus told the court that someone in Downie’s neighborhood had pointed a laser at his copter two weeks before the July 16 incident. The sergeant said he was on a routine patrol over Rocklin when a laser beam was shone into the cockpit, striking him and his partner in the eyes. Bogardus said he used a public address system to warn residents that discharging a laser at an aircraft was a federal crime. He said he advised the culprit to stop shining the beam “or police are going to come knock on your door.” The lasering then stopped, he said.
But as Bogardus again flew over Rocklin two weeks later, someone began shining the laser beam at the helicopter. “This time, we did something about it,” he said. “We landed.”
The FBI was called in and officials went to a home from where the beam appeared to have originated. Downie was questioned, admitted the act and handed over the laser device, Bogardus said. While Downie didn’t admit to using the laser in the first incident, he acknowledged that he heard Bogardus’ warning over the P.A. system, the sergeant told the court.
When asked why he would shine a laser at an aircraft if he’d already been warned it was a federal crime, Downie answered that “it was reckless and stupid” and that he shouldn’t have done it, Bogardus said.
Hoffmann, the prosecutor, said Downie had a prior serious felony strike on his criminal record, which made him ineligible for probation.
A report about lasers pointed at aircraft was submitted to Congress in 2005. It can be viewed at www.fas.org/sgp/crs/RS22033.pdf.