30 months in the slammer for man who pointed green laser at aircraft

Prison term enforces new law making it a federal crime to deliberately point a laser at an aircraft

In a move federal prosecutors hope sends a strong message to the knuckleheads who point lasers at aircraft for fun, a California man was sentenced to 30 months in prison for shining one at two aircraft.

According to the FBI Adam Gardenhire, 19, was arrested on March 29, 2012 and named in a two-count indictment filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles that said he pointed the beam of a laser at a private plane and a police helicopter that responded to the report. 

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Gardenhire later in 2012 plead guilty to one count of a federal indictment that charged him with pointing the beam of a laser at aircraft.  The federal statute used to charge Gardenhire is part of legislation signed into law in 2012 by President Obama that makes it a federal crime to deliberately point a laser at an aircraft. The indictment marked the second time a violation of the new statute had been charged in the United States. Just last week a federal grand jury in California returned three indictments charging three men and one woman under the federal law the U.S. Attorney and FBI's Sacramento Field Office said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it has taken enforcement action against 28 people charged with aiming a laser device at an aircraft since June 2011.

According to the statement of facts outlined in the plea agreement, Gardenhire deliberately aimed a commercial-grade green laser at multiple aircraft on that March evening.  The laser attack was initially reported by a pilot operating a privately owned Cessna Citation as the pilot was preparing to land at Burbank Airport. The laser struck the pilot of the airplane in the eye multiple times and caused him to suffer vision impairment that continued through the following day. Later that evening, the beam of Gardenhire's laser struck a police helicopter multiple times. The helicopter was operated by a pilot with the Pasadena Police Department who was responding to the report of the laser attack on the Cessna. The helicopter pilot was wearing protective gear and therefore did not suffer eye damage or vision impairment as a result of the laser, the FBI stated.

At the trial, Gardenhire's attorney said he "had no idea that the deceptively ordinary laser he had borrowed from a friend was powerful enough to be seen by, much less distract, a pilot thousands of feet away."

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But the US Attorney prosecuting the case said:  "Gardenhire basically argued that it wasn't dangerous, that he couldn't have known it was dangerous - that basically he was just bored and entertaining himself.  The judge found the facts didn't bear that out and his behavior was reckless and very dangerous."

The FAA last May said the number of reported laser incidents nationwide had risen for the fifth consecutive year to 3,592 in 2011.  Pointing a laser at an aircraft can cause temporary blindness or make airliner pilots take evasive measures to avoid the laser light.

The FAA says the increase in annual laser reports is likely due to a number of factors, including the availability of inexpensive laser devices on the Internet; increased power levels that enable lasers to reach aircraft at higher altitudes; more pilot reporting of laser strikes; and the introduction of green and blue lasers, which are more easily seen than red lasers.

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