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HOUSTON – A 20-year-old Houston man has entered a guilty plea to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Bryan Aldana, 20, admitted that on June 23 2018, he pointed a green laser light at an Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter while it was in the air.
On June 23, 2018, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) agents were flying a the helicopter on routine law enforcement patrol. At approximately 9:00 p.m., they were headed in the northwest direction along highway US-290 when agents observed a flash of green light coming from the left side of the aircraft. At the time, they were at approximately 1000 feet elevation and traveling at a speed of 70-80 knots.
The pilot reversed the aircraft back to the southeast direction and was illuminated again by the green laser, which was powerful enough to light up the entire cockpit. The light caused a glare in the pilot’s eyes and obstructed his vision, forcing him to turn his head and maneuver the Airbus away from it. The pilot also had to close and shield his eyes from the flashing green laser inside the cockpit.
The investigation led to the source of the light at a business near the intersection of Hollister and Pitner Roads in Houston. With the help of the Houston Police Department (HPD) and the store’s security cameras, Aldana was soon identified.
Video recordings show Aldana aiming a green laser up in the sky several times and a green laser pointer at the helicopter while sitting in a chair next to a silver sedan. He was also seen placing the green laser device through the opening of the silver sedan window on to the backseat.
Officers seized the laser and submitted it to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist to be examined. The scientist concluded the laser pointer is a Class IIIB laser system and produced a “laser beam” which could result in serious and possibly permanent retinal damage.
U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes accepted the plea and set sentencing for July 22 2019. At that time, Aldana faces up to five years in prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine. He was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.
The FBI, HPD and DPS conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Porto is prosecuting the case.
Justin Shorey, 37, was arrested and charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
According to Fox News, in San Antonio there were 48 reports of lasers pointed at aircraft in 2016, 62 reports in 2017, and 74 reports from January through November 2018.
From Fox San Antonio. Thanks to Peter Smith and Leon McLin for bringing this to our attention.
Ground officers arrested 42-year-old Sherryol Elton Clack, Jr. with a green laser pointer.
Two weeks later, FBI agents interviewed Clack. He said his friend had purchased the laser pointer and claimed the light could reach the moon. Clack then decided to aim it at a helicopter. He said this was done out of "stupidity" and he did not intend to harm anyone.
Sherryol Elton Clack, Jr.
On February 15 2019 Clack took a plea deal for the offense of Aiming a Laser Pointer at an Aircraft. Details of the deal were not available. If the judge approves the plea deal, Clack will be sentenced later to a term of up to five years in prison.
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
The incident occurred on June 20 2016, when the helicopter pilot had to take evasive action to avoid the green beam. Another crew member guided ground officers to the laser perpetrator, where Peralez was arrested.
The incident happened August 25 2016 in Mission, Texas. The pilot’s vision was temporarily impaired as the laser light lit up the cockpit. The pilot directed ground officers to a home, where Aaron Caceres, 27, and his brother Francisco Caceres, 24, confessed to the laser misuse.
Aaron (27) and Francisco (24) Caceres
The helicopter was lased twice while in the air, and a third time when it landed. Officers traced the laser to Emily Ann Hunter. She was charged with illumination of an aircraft, a misdemeanor. Bond was set at $1,000.
Emily Ann Hunter
The “Star Shower” laser projector, sold for $40 in stores including Wal-Mart, Target and CVS during the 2015 Christmas season. Details on the potential hazard are here.
On December 3 2015, a commercial airplane at 13,000 feet altitude reported being illuminated by what was believed to be a “laser holiday light display.” The light was traced to a home 22 miles east of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. A pilot who was not involved told CBSDFW that likely the homeowner was asked to re-aim or remove the display, to prevent beams from going in the air. According to the news station, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said was the first case they had heard of, involving holiday laser lights.
However, NBC Los Angeles reported on an earlier incident. On November 18 2015, a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft sent a “distress call” to Sacramento police after being illuminated with laser light. A homeowner was advised to be more careful with the beam location. (It is not known why the FAA was not aware of this earlier incident.) Here is the NBC Los Angeles video:
On December 6 2015, three aircraft reported laser lights which were traced to a holiday display at at home three miles from Kansas City International airport. The homeowner told police he had “no idea he was endangering the public”
From CBSDFW, NBC Los Angeles, KSHB Kansas City. For much more information on the device and its potential hazards, see this LaserPointerSafety.com story.
The incident occurred on May 30 2015. Orlando Jose Chapa was in his driveway when he aimed a laser beam at a Department of Public Safety helicopter. He was arrested on September 23 2015, after being indicted by a federal grand jury.
He remains free on bond; a sentencing date has not been set. He could receive up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.
Orlando Jose Chapa
Beginning at about 10 pm local time on July 21, until about 1 am on July 22, eight aircraft flying near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport reported seeing green laser light. These included flights from American Airlines, Envoy (formerly American Eagle), Southwest Airlines and FedEx. The aircraft were at altitudes between 7,000 and 10,000 feet when they reported seeing the laser light.
Air traffic controllers routed other aircraft around the area where the laser beams originated. A DPS helicopter sent to investigate was also targeted by the laser beam, which led deputies to a home in Alvarado, which is about 35 miles south-southwest of DFW.
The three persons in the home initially denied doing anything wrong. Once deputies said there was video from the helicopter, Austin Lawrence Siferd admitted pointing a laser at the aircraft, “not realizing it was actually strong enough to reach the aircraft,” said a law enforcement spokesperson.
The local NBC station quoted Siferd’s fiancée, Brenda Arnold, as saying she purchased the laser for him: “I think that he probably did think that they were just looking at the stars. I really don't think he meant anything intentional. I really don’t.”
Siferd was charged with illumination of an aircraft by an intense light, a misdemeanor. Bond was set at $300. More severe federal charges are pending.
Austin Lawrence Siferd
According to a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson, no one was injured by the laser light. She also said there had been 59 reported laser incidents in North Texas from January 1 to July 22, 2015.
From the Associated Press via the Washington Times, the Dallas Morning News and NBCDFW.com
UPDATED October 14 2016: Siferd was sentenced to six months in federal prison. He had pleaded guilty to a felony indictment in March 2016. From CBSDFW and the Star-Telegram.
The incident occurred at about 1 am on June 1 2014. A DPS crew responded to a report of a medical helicopter having laser beams aimed at it, near Amarillo’s Tradewind Airport. As it searched, the DPS helicopter was struck by laser beams two or three times.
Suspects on the ground got into a van and drove away. The DPS aircraft followed them, directing ground officers who closed in. A laser pointer was seen in the van. They arrested Matthew George Dodgen, 35, and Christopher Anthony Cantrell, 33.
DPS referred the case to the FBI. The grand jury indicted on charges of aiming at an aircraft, which has a penalty of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The men were also indicted on an “aiding and abetting” charge.
On August 24 2013, as a DPS helicopter flew over Garland, a green laser light illuminated the cockpit. The crew identified three persons on the ground and sent officers. When confronted, the three men did not want to identify who did it, until they were told the helicopter had video of the incident and suspects. Chavez then confessed. He was arrested and the laser pointer was confiscated as evidence.
Chavez had been arrested just a few weeks earlier, on August 3 2013, on suspicion of drunken driving. (He was passed out in a car that had crashed into a pole. He told officers he had three 12-ounce beers earlier. He could not remember what city he had started driving from. When asked if his trouble remembering was because he was drunk, Chavez reportedly said “Probably.”)
He had served a four-month sentence in Lubbock, earlier in 2013, also for drunk driving.
From the Dallas Morning News
Gabriel Soza Ruedas Jr.
The 25-year-old faces up to five years in federal prison, and up to a $250,000 fine if convicted.
From KEYE TV
UPDATED - July 7 2014: Ruedas entered a guilty plea in Federal court in Austin. No sentencing date has been set. Ruedas faces up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. From SFGate, KEYE TV and the Austin American-Statesman.
UPDATED - October 2 2014: Ruedas was sentenced to two years in prison, plus three years probation after his release. From KTBC and the Austin American-Statesman.
UPDATED - October 9 2014: Austin TV station FOX 7 obtained video from the AIR-1 helicopter, showing the Frbruary laser strike and the arrest. From MyFOXaustin.
The incident occurred January 4 2014. No one was injured. Dorsett was arrested in El Paso and was charged with a violation of 18 USC 39A, aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.
From WOAI, Statesman.com and a press release from U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas
UPDATED - July 31 2014: Dorsett was convicted by a federal jury. Sentencing was scheduled for October 2 2014. He could receive up to five years in federal prison. From KVIA.com.
No injuries were reported in the January 29 2014 incident.
In a Dallas incident that occurred the previous week. the co-pilot of a medical helicopter was treated at a hospital after having his right eye “burned’ by a green laser.
Michael Pruitt, 30, was heading to St. Paul University Hospital in Dallas with a patient when a laser was aimed from the area of Interstate 35 and Harry Hines Boulevard. Pruitt was struck in the right eye.
The helicopter made an unplanned landing at Dallas Love Field. The patient, Pruitt, and the flight nurse rose in an ambulance to the hospital, a distance of about 2 miles. At the hospital, Pruitt’s eye injury was examined.
A Dallas Police Department incident report says Pruitt sustained “a burn to his right eye” and was “unable to see out of it.”
A spokesman for his employer, Air Evac Lifeteam, said “Its my understanding he’s fine.” But Pruitt’s father said his son still cannot see out of his eye and has a headache: “We think his eye will be fine, but you never know until it heals. He’s been in a lot of pain.”
An FAA spokesperson said this was “the most significant injury we’ve seen in the DFW area.”
From NBCDFW.com and WFAA.com
Officers on the ground found a teenage suspect who admitted pointing the laser at the helicopter. They arrested Joey Martin, 19, and charged him with illumination of aircraft by intense light.
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: This is the second story in October 2013 where law enforcement flew special helicopter missions to draw out a laser perpetrator. The other case involved a complex, multi-agency supervision of a suspect in Portland, Oregon. This could be a coincidence -- such missions probably have been flown in the past. But it may also indicate that law enforcement is becoming more proactive and determined to locate and arrest perpetrators.
Yesenia Lisabeth Diaz
Police had received an emergency call stating that someone was pointing a laser directly at an aircraft. Brownsville police went to the address and found Yesenia Lisabeth Diaz, who admitted that she aimed at the helicopter but “did not think that it would reach that far.” She was arrested and charged with a Class C misdemeanor.
The helicopter had been conducting a training exercise. The laser light went in the pilots’ eyes and disoriented them. Pilot Bryan Minnear thought he was under attack. In a statement to the court, he wrote: “My first thought was that we would soon hear and feel the impact of bullets hitting the helicopter. At our altitude we had no way of knowing it was a laser pointer, not a weapon…. Why someone would choose to target any aircraft, much less one performing critical work for the public is beyond my understanding.”
From The Monitor. An press release about the sentence, issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas on September 25 2013, is here. The original LaserPointerSafety.com report of the March 7 2013 incident is here.
A green laser beam was aimed at Dallas Police Department’s Air One at least four times over 10 minutes. The beam led back to Santodomingo’s house, where ground officers arrested him. The 22-year-old admitted to aiming at the helicopter, saying he wanted to see how far it would go.
“This young man’s conduct was extraordinarily dangerous and could have had disastrous consequences, which was reflected in the court’s sentence today,” said U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldana in a news release.
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and DallasNews. A video of the incident is available here. LaserPointerSafety.com’s original account of Santodomingo’s February 28 2013 guilty plea is here.
According to the indictment, on December 27 2012 each man aimed a laser pointer at the Halo Flight medical helicopter.
From an FBI Houston Division press release. Thanks to Chuck Maricle of AixiZ for bringing this to our attention.
Tristan, left, and Uresti
Margarito Tristan III, 23, was charged with illuminating an aircraft with a laser pointer, impairing the operator, and with possession of marijuana. Eugene Uresti, 22, was charged with resisting arrest and public intoxication. A third occupant of the car was released with no charges filed.
Tristan told arresting officers that he was trying to hit a star with the laser.
From the Houston Chronicle
UPDATED September 25 2013: Tristan was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, plus an additional two years of supervised release following his prison term. Details are here.
The entire video from the Air One helicopter can be seen here at YouTube.
The incident was captured on video. Above is a still frame from the video, showing the maximum laser impingement on the camera. (It should be noted that this is a very brief and atypical freeze frame; for most of the video the laser is waving around but is not aimed directly into the camera lens.)
When arrested, he was clad only in his boxer shorts. Santodomingo told officers “I wanted to see how far it [the laser’s beam] would go.” Sentencing is scheduled for July 25 2013; he could receive up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
From NBCDFW.com and the Dallas Morning News
UPDATED July 25 2013: Santodomingo was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
The crew member was treated for temporary vision impairment and will make a full recovery.
According to the Coast Guard, this was the third laser incident since June 2012 for aircrews at Coast Guard Air Station Corpus Christi. A Navy air station nearby has reported two other incidents.
From KTRK-TV 13 Houston, CNN and Caller.com
No one has yet been caught in the incident, which took place over Terrell, Texas which is about 30 miles east of Dallas.
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...
The club said the light was “installed at an angle” which they were told would not be a problem for aircraft. An FAA official said that incidents like this had the potential to cause a problem such as the co-pilot having to complete a landing.
Location of the spotlight on the Bombshells roof. Video still from KDFW Fox 4.
Location of Bombshells, relative to the Dallas Love Field approach. Arrow points to a passing jet. Video still from KDFW Fox 4.
From KDFW Fox 4, Dallas-Fort Worth. Feb. 2011 note: The club may have changed its name since the incident, to “Dallas Cabaret”.