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A Louisville man was sentenced last week to 2 years of probation, including 8 months of home incarceration, for aiming a laser pointer at a Louisville Metro Police helicopter.
According to court documents, Manuel Martin Salazar-Leija, Jr., 26, of Louisville, aimed the beam of a laser pointer at an LMPD helicopter on September 25, 2020, during protests in the city. Lasers can blind pilots and cause the aircraft to crash, and aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal felony offense.
In addition to 2 years of probation and 8 months of home incarceration, United States District Court Judge David Hale ordered Salazar-Leija, Jr., to pay a $2,500 fine and the costs of his home incarceration.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiser prosecuted the case.
Additional details come from news reports:
The helicopter was doing surveillance after a burglary when it was illuminated by the laser beam. The pilots were temporarily blinded. Salazar-Leija admitted intentionally aiming the laser at the aircraft.
In 2020, there were 181 pilot reports of laser illuminations in Kentucky, 73 of which occurred in Louisville.
Manuel Martin Salazar-Leija, Jr.
The aircraft was on approach to Savannah Air National Guard Base when it was "deliberately struck by a high-powered laser for about one minute" according to the FBI. A crew member had temporary eye damage from the laser strike.
Anyone with information about the March 9 laser strike is asked to contact FBI Atlanta at 770-216-3000 or go to tips. fbi.gov.
From Military.com,The Advance, and the Associated Press
This came as a result of laser strikes on airplanes approaching Savannah Hilton Head International Airport. Since November 2019 there were three illuminations from an area of Effingham County, 10-15 miles northwest of Savannah.
The county sheriff said that additional laser strikes had occurred prior to November, and the general area of the strikes was recently identified.
Anyone with information can call the Effingham County Sheriff's Office at 912-754-3449.
UPDATE November 11 2020: A 48-year-old from Rincon, Georgia was indicted for aiming a laser pointer at aircraft on three separate occasions from November 2019 to January 2020. Details are in a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Georgia (below, in blue type).
UPDATE August 26, 2021: Roger Floyd Hendricks pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by three years of probation. Details are in a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Souther District of Georgia (below, in red type).
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She said laser illuminations can cause pilots to land prematurely, and if they have temporary vision problems, they cannot fly.
Mayer also said "We see an uptick right after the holidays. I think people get the lasers for Christmas gifts and want to try them out, but they are absolutely picking the wrong target when they hit an aircraft."
According to Mayer, Flight for Life made six reports to the FBI in December, regarding laser interference.
From CBS4 Denver
At about 12:45 am on October 22 2017, the helicopter was providing support to ground units responding to a domestic violence disturbance when it was continuously illuminated by a green laser beam. The tactical flight officer was hit three times in the eyes.
The pilot had momentary flashblindness and lost night vision. The tactical flight officer had watering eyes, discomfort and pain. There was no reported eye injury.
The helicopter broke off from its mission to pursue the laser perpetrator.
The beam came from the driver’s side of a car traveling north on Highway 99 in Fresno. Ground officers pursued Alvarez’s car, which began a high-speed chase. Twice during the chase Alvarez stopped to drop off passengers. The car eventually crashed into a median. Alvarez got out and ran towards neighboring homes. He was apprehended by officers in the backyard of a home after a short foot pursuit.
Alvarez had minor injuries from the crash and was taken to a hospital for treatment. At the hospital, a baggie was found with substances suspected to be marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.
Inside the car’s driver side door pocket police found a laser marked “Laser 303” with a green multi-dot beam (perhaps a diffraction grating making a star-field-like pattern) and a danger label.
After an FBI investigation, Alvarez was charged with violating federal law by knowingly aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft or its flight path. In addition, there were two previous felony warrants out for Alvarez’s arrest on other, unspecified charges.
From a report by Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica. The criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California is here.
UPDATED May 7 2018 — Michael Vincent Alvarez was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the October 22 2017 incident. From KMPH and the Fresno Bee.
The helicopter was searching for a violent robbery suspect. The crew was forced to stop the search in order to identify the source of the laser.
Laser light from a direct hit overwhelms the camera lens for one frame of the CHP helicopter’s surveillance
A second later, the suspect can be seen (left) walking with what appears to be a child (right) in the middle of the road.
The CHP crew directed ground officers to a San Leandro house where the woman was arrested and a laser pointer was confiscated. CHP said the woman had other lasers in her home as well.
The FBI is investigating.
From the Mercury News and KRON (link to video is here)
Seeking Information Regarding Laser Strikes
Stephen D. Anthony, special agent in charge of the Cleveland Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for the Northern District of Ohio, and Calvin Williams, chief of Cleveland Division of Police, are seeking information regarding two recent laser strikes, one against a Cleveland Division of Police helicopter and one against a MetroHealth Life helicopter.
Both of these laser strikes occurred on July 4, 2017, at approximately 10:15 p.m. from the 3000 block of West 31st Street in Cleveland, Ohio.
The main hazard for aviation is that pilots can be distracted or temporarily flash-blinded by the light from a laser beam. The light often is a large light at aviation distances, unlike the tiny dot a laser makes at close range. Individuals often do not realize that traveling over hundreds of feet a tiny, two-centimeter laser beam spreads to become approximately six feet of light that can block a pilot’s vision. Most laser strike incidents reported occur at flights under 10,000 feet with the highest percentage being altitudes under 6,000 feet.
Laser strikes are investigated by local and federal law enforcement. Under 18 USC 39 (A), whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned. Under 49 USC Section 46301 (a) (5) (A), the FAA may seek a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 per violation for aiming a laser at an aircraft in violation of C.F.R. Section 91.11.
The FBI and our law enforcement partners are asking the public if they have any knowledge of the laser strikes that occurred last week. If anyone has any information please call the Cleveland Division of the FBI at (216) 522-1400. Tips can remain anonymous and reward money is available for the successful identification and prosecution of the individual(s) responsible for these laser strikes.
Any questions regarding this news release can be directed to SA Vicki D. Anderson at the Cleveland Office of the FBI at (216) 522-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Sargent Jennifer Ciaccia at the Cleveland Division of Police at (216) 623-5033.
From an FBI Cleveland news release dated July 12 2017. Here are two typical news reports, from Fox8 and from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Evans, 25, of San Antonio, Texas, worked as a security guard in a medical clinic. Workers at the clinic told FBI agents that Evans had laser pointers of different colors and sometimes aimed them at employees.
On October 27 2015, Evans stood outside the clinic and lit up a WOAI-TV news helicopter three times with a green laser:
Evans in the clinic parking lot, aiming his laser pointer
The laser beam goes directly into the cockpit
The helicopter pilot was able to help ground officers find Evans’ location. Evans initially denied his involvement to investigating FBI agents. After questioning with a polygraph, Evans said he did hit the helicopter and in fact had previously aimed lasers at other aircraft as well.
Evans will be sentenced December 12. He could receive up to five years in federal prison and be fined up to $250,000.
This is the second guilty plea in Texas this month. Juan Peralez, 57, of La Joya Texas pleaded guilty on September 2 to aiming a laser pointer at a Border Patrol Helicopter.
From the Hastings Tribune, Houston Chronicle and News4SanAntonio
US: FBI searching for laser perpetrator after Delta pilot's vision "severely disrupted" on landing an NY LaGuardia Airport
The FBI announced on March 28 that they were searching for suspects in the Queens Boulevard area of Elmhurst, Queens, New York City. The bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Force offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.
From the Associated Press via MassLive.com, and Queens Chronicle. This incident was widely reported as an injury to the pilot, in press headlines such as “FBI: Laser flashed at Delta cockpit injured pilot landing airplane at New York’s LaGuardia Airport”
Timothy Wilson, 46, was arrested on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance and of narcotics paraphernalia, and resisting or delaying arrest. Patrick Florez, 45, was arrested on suspicion of stolen property and false license plate tabs.
The strike force confiscated a stolen motorcycle, quantities of methamphetamine, and narcotics-related material, paraphernalia and a scale.
No laser was found and the investigation is continuing.
From the Bakersfield Californian
Stephen Francis Bukucs, who worked as a private security guard
An AP report said Bukucs pleaded not guilty. He told a judge that he pointed at aircraft over 25 times “for excitement, for thrills”. He would listen to the resulting law enforcement response on a police scanner.
The judge ordered a mental health evaluation for Bukucs, who has no prior criminal record.
UPDATED October 25 2013: Bukucs was identified through sophisticated surveillance coordinated by the FBI, according to a search warrant application detailing the operation. Begun in August 2013, it involved the use of video-equipped aircraft to identify the laser source, secret cameras installed to monitor Bukucs’ apartment, and physical surveillance by Special Agents. An account of the operation is here.
UPDATED March 17 2015: Bukucs was sentenced to six months in federal prison on March 16 2015, with an additional three years probation after his release. Bukucs had pleaded guilty on July 15 2014 to aiming at two commercial airliner flights. Bukucs confessed to the FBI that, over several months, he had targeted up to 25 aircraft and that he did so for entertainment and as a “cat-and-mouse” game with the police who pursued him. According to the U.S. District Attorney, the laser beam Bukucs had was a high-powered version, not the type used in an office presentation.
His arrest occurred after intense air and ground surveillance by FBI agents and police officers. A task force involving the FBI, Portland police, Port of Portland police and other agencies, flew two airplanes as decoys in August 2013 to try and draw out the perpetrator. Investigators reported over 100 laser strikes from the vicinity of defendant’s apartment in 2013.
Prosecutors sought a two year sentence. The judge granted leniency (six months) because Bukucs was suffering from mental illness. His girlfriend had died from a seizure, leading him to abuse prescription painkillers and to deliberately target aircraft with the laser pointer. In court, Bukucs apologized and said he was ashamed. He knew the laser could annoy pilots but denied he had malicious intent: “I was just being stupid. I look back now and I'm so embarrassed by my actions." From a March 17 2015 FBI press release (reprinted below), a July 15 2014 Oregonian news story, a March 16 2015 Oregonian news story, and an AP report in the Greenfield Reporter.
Fifteen minutes later, the 105 passengers and five crew members on the Boeing 737 landed in Spokane. Emergency services came on board and did not find any fire, heat or smoke but did find the burn holes.
Alex Philip Langloys Miller of Minneapolis was arrested by FBI agents and was charged with willful damage to an aircraft. He was released on $10,000 bond.
From the Telegraph, the Spokesman-Review and the Aviation Herald. A photo of the airplane involved, Sun Country Airlines registration number N716SY, is here.
UPDATED October 22 2013: The Island Guardian published more details about the incident. The smoke was first smelled by a passenger who had previously worked as a flight attendant. She notified a crew member. In looking for the source, they saw “a small bright blue light for a moment under one of the seats.” Another passenger thought they saw a person holding a laser between his legs. The suspicious person went to the restroom and returned. The plane made an emergency diversion to Spokane. After landing, a “greeting committee of police, airline officials and the FBI” found burn holes in the seat in front of the suspicious passenger, and found two lasers in the bathroom trash. From a September 13 2013 article in the Island Guardian.
On August 21 2012, a Sun Country Airlines chartered Boeing 737 was illuminated by a green laser beam while at 12,000 feet over Suffolk County on its way to John F. Kennedy International Airport. A Suffolk County police helicopter was sent to investigate and also had a green beam pointed at it. The police pilot was able to trace the beam back to the home of Angel Rivas in Shirley, a community in the town of Brookhaven on Long Island’s south shore. After landing, the three persons on the police helicopter were treated at a hospital and released.
At Rivas’ home, patrol officer, Matthew Dewitt, confronted the 33-year-old, who denied aiming at the aircraft. No action was taken due to a lack of any other evidence.
On January 4 2013, Dewitt was responding to a call of an altercation at a convenience store. Rivas turned out to be one of the persons involved. When asked for ID, Rivas said he did not have any due to a suspended license, and then told Dewitt “You know me, you were at my house, I was the one who lasered the plane.” Rivas was immediately arrested, advised of his Miranda rights, and was taken into custody.
Click to read more...
Glenn Stephen Hansen
Glenn Stephen Hansen, 49, told arresting FBI agents that he aimed a laser pointer as “stress relief” from “noise anxiety” due to aircraft flying overhead. He had filed over 500 complaints against the noise. He told the agents that airplanes “purposefully flew lower over his house in response to the noise complaints.” He was aware that shining the laser at aircraft was “wrong” but that he “had no idea” that the light could affect the pilots and cause a hazard.
Hansen was arrested March 24 2012 on new federal charges signed into law Feb. 14 by President Obama. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
LaserPointerSafety.com is not aware of any other person being arrested for so many laser incidents. If Hansen is responsible for 23 incidents, that represents 3.4% of all U.S. incidents, and 96% of all incidents involving Orlando International Airport, during the period in question (from January 1 through March 23).
Hansen was arrested at a home about 7 miles southwest of Orlando International Airport (black square).
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The FBI investigation started after a January 8 2012 incident involving an AirTran departure that was 400 feet in the air when the pilot was flashed with a green light. He was tracked for 30-60 seconds, to an altitude of 2000 feet. The pilot took evasive actions including turning off all lights, making a sharp left turn, and asking for a change of course. The pilot told the FBI “he was concerned he could lose vision on the plane.”
The FBI focused on Hansen due to his previous noise complaints. Because of the accuracy of the laser “hits”, they believed Hansen was tracking flights on public websites. His home was placed under surveillance. At about 9 pm March 23 they observed a green beam coming from his house, shining towards an aircraft. (The pilot stated that the light illuminated the cockpit but did not go directly in his eye.) Hansen was arrested at about 4 am the next morning.
From the Orlando Sentinel and the criminal complaint/search warrant. The text of the U.S. Attorney’s office press release is below (click the “Read More…” link).
The nature of the glasses is a mystery. Although a Gizmodo headline said the man wore “laser glasses”, the word “laser” was not used in the original CBS DFW story used as Gizmodo’s source.
A photo (above) taken by Barber shows the man wearing two pairs of glasses. A Google Image search for “laser glasses” and “laser pointer glasses” turned up one type of laser-emitting glasses but these have a different design: thick rims with a silver laser embedded above the nose. An eBay search turned up a similar pair; these do not appear to match either of the man’s glasses.
A 45-year-old Garland man, Sammy Ladymon, was arrested and charged with “illumination of aircraft with intense light”, a Texas state misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 1 year.
Ladymon’s house (A) is about 14 miles in a straight line from Love Field (B)
The arrest came one day after the Federal Aviation Administration announced it would impose a civil penalty of up to $11,000 on persons lasing an aircraft. There was no immediate word as to whether Ladymon would face the FAA fine or other federal charges as well.Click to read more...
15 months in prison for aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft
”This was a very serious crime that deserved prison time,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Pell.
The June 3 2009 incident caused the helicopter pilots to be “momentarily blinded” and to change course -- breaking off from assisting police in a burglary investigation. The helicopter then tracked the car from which the light came. Officers on the ground stopped the vehicle and found Wells and a laser inside. During an interview with FBI agents in January 2010, "the defendant admitted that he pointed a green laser at the helicopter, which he knew was a police helicopter," according to the plea agreement, which says "he acted with reckless disregard for the safety of human life." In July 2010, Wells pled guilty to the felony of willfully interfering with an operator of an aircraft.
From the Los Angeles Times; also at Gawker, Palm Springs Desert Sun and KESQ TV. Note: Sources differ on Wells’ age at sentencing; some say he was 19, others say he was 20. Sources also differ on the maximum penalty possible for interference with an operator of an aircraft; some say 3.5 years is the maximum, others say 20 years. And, sources differ on the date of the guilty plea; some say July 2010, others say September 2010.
According to WABC, on Saturday April 17, a JetBlue flight originating in Portland, Maine was landing at JFK “when suddenly the pilots were distracted by an intensely bright green laser”. According to tower transcripts, the pilot said the laser was “directly pointing right at us. I saw the flash to the left looked, looked out left as I was landing. Put my head down, put up the sun screen.” [Note: This is a good reaction. Although the pilot initially looked towards the light, the pilot then took steps to reduce the light’s effect.]