SANTA ANA, California– A Santa Ana man who intentionally aimed a laser pointer at a law enforcement helicopter investigating a serious traffic accident was sentenced yesterday afternoon to 15 months in federal prison.
Mario Deleon Lopez, 35, was sentenced yesterday by United States District Judge Andrew J. Guilford, who said the offense was a “distraction” to the people in the air and that “people could die.”
Lopez pleaded guilty in March to a felony offense of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft and admitted that he pointed a green laser at a helicopter operated by the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD).
On the evening of November 14, 2015, OCSD tactical flight deputies responded to a traffic accident in Santa Ana involving an overturned vehicle. The deputies were searching the area to see whether anyone had been thrown from the vehicle when their helicopter was struck with laser beam. The helicopter was struck multiple times with a green laser that illuminated the helicopter's cockpit in an attack the tactical flight officer called “relentless.”
Following the laser attacks, the deputies, along with the Santa Ana Police Department, successfully tracked the source of the laser to a suspect located in the backyard of a residence in Santa Ana. Police on the ground responded to the residence and took Lopez into custody on state charges of pointing a laser at an aircraft. Lopez subsequently posted bail and was released from local custody while the federal investigation continued and culminated with the filing of the indictment.
“This defendant knew that pointing the laser at the helicopter could cause the pilot blindness and endanger those operating the aircraft, but committed the crime anyway,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This was a senseless crime that warrants the sentenced imposed by the court.”
The investigation into Lopez was conducted by the Orange County Sheriff's Department, the Santa Ana Police Department and the FBI.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mark Takla of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section.
Reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years as laser devices have become more affordable and widely available. In addition, technology has improved the effectiveness of laser devices, with a resulting increase in the potential safety hazards for pilots operating aircraft, as well as their passengers and crew. Such safety hazards include temporary distraction and impaired vision, which is particularly dangerous during the critical takeoff or landing phase of flight. California consistently leads the nation in reports of laser attacks.
USAO – California, Central Updated August 23, 2016
Central District of California DOJ / 16-195 / August 23, 2016