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Man gets 15 months in federal prison for aiming laser pointer at a CHP helicopter

A Coachella Valley man who aimed a laser pointer at a CHP helicopter last year was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison Monday, authorities said.

Nathan Ramon Wells, 19, aimed the laser at the aircraft while it was assisting Cathedral City police investigating a residential burglary in June 2009.

Along with the prison time, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips in Riverside ordered Wells to be placed on supervised released for three years when he completes the sentence.

In September, Wells pleaded guilty to a felony count of interference with an operator of an aircraft. According to the U.S. attorney’s office, the California Highway Patrol pilot was flying at 700 feet when the helicopter’s cockpit was suddenly illuminated with a bright green light, causing both CHP officers aboard to look away and change course.

The officers aboard determined that the light was coming from a vehicle below, which they tracked as it drove through Cathedral City in Riverside County. When police stopped Wells’ vehicle, they found a laser device inside.

The case was investigated by the FBI, with help from Cathedral City police.

-- Phil Willon

Comments () | Archives (14)

He certainly deserves fairly severe punishment but I am questioning 15 months. In contrast, irreparable harm has been done by extensive fraud in the housing/banking industry and not one person (ok, one) has gone to jail for stealing millions...... the blindfold on the justice is skewed

oh no a laser! we're all gonna die!
wow lock more innocent people up.
our justice system is just great.

The consequences could have been disasterous

There has got to be a better way to teach him not to do this.

Taking over a year of his life seems steep.

Surprising how many people don't understand how dangerous such device is. The FAA has quite an amount of information written on it... pointing lasers at people is dangerous enough... doing it to someone flying an aircraft is criminal.

Ya better stop tracking that criminal and go for the laser bandit! Stoooops.

who knows, that guy could have been trying to mess with the helicopter to let the criminal get away. not to mention there are probably multiple helicopters and were authorized to go after the person who pointed the laser. you wouldn't generally get in trouble for pointing a laser but if it interferes then yes you will and should get into trouble.

American justice: protect the money, screw the rest

Lasers are typically pointed at pilots when they are close to the ground, taking off or landing, and it's very dangerous. These lasers can literally blind a pilot for a few minutes and a likely result is a crash.

Those people are putting the life of everyone in the airplane at risk in addition to countless on the ground. This crime is serious enough to be a federal matter; 15 month is well deserved.

To folks who think this wasn't a big deal or that the sentence is too harsh, lasers can cause permanent impairment to vision (they were only up 700 feet) or flash blindness, which could have caused a crash. It is absolutely great that they caught and sentenced this idiot.

You guys obviously haven't watched this video, this laser made by Wicked Lasers is currently on sale in the US for 300 dollars in defiance of FDA regulations. 15 months is just right for this dumb kid.


Not only this laser blinds in seconds, it also heats up surface and can light a match by simply focus on the tip.

Ridiculous. 15 months...Really. But a drunk driver simply gets a 30 day suspension on first offense. Please tell me this kid has a history of jail time/negligent behavior. So many other crimes that do real damage are sentenced to less. Hopefully this gets appealed and knocked down to probation, otherwise we will most likely rehabilitate this kid into becoming a real criminal with the stuff he learns inside the joint.

Google laser pointer accidents and try to find one actual accident. Potentially dangerous yes, but in reality no. Let's save our prisons for real criminals as I am okay with this one being out on the street with me and even my family.

CALIFORNIA: Laser regulations
California Penal Code Sections 247.5, 248, 417.25, 417.26 and 417.27.

Section 247.5
Any person who willfully and maliciously discharges a laser at an aircraft, whether in motion or in flight, while occupied, is guilty of a violation of this section, which shall be punishable as either a misdemeanor by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), or a felony by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two years, or three years, or by a fine of two thousand dollars ($2,000). This section does not apply to the conduct of laser development activity by or on behalf of the United States Armed Forces.
As used in this section, "aircraft" means any contrivance intended for and capable of transporting persons through the airspace.
As used in this section, "laser" means a device that utilizes the natural oscillations of atoms or molecules between energy levels for generating coherent electromagnetic radiation in the ultraviolet, visible, or infrared region of the spectrum, and when discharged exceeds one milliwatt continuous wave.


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