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Sheriff's deputies make another arrest after laser is pointed at pilot

May 1, 2011 |  8:53 pm

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials Sunday announced the arrest of another suspect for pointing a laser at an aircraft and have scheduled a demonstration Monday to highlight the dangers that lasers pose for pilots.

The most recent arrest occurred shortly after the suspect Tuesday pointed a green laser at a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter.

Over the last seven months, lasers have been pointed at helicopter pilots and aircraft from the sheriff’s Aero Bureau six times while in flight. Four suspects have been arrested.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison and a fine of $2,000. If tried as a federal offense, it’s punishable by 20 years in federal prison. Witnesses are asked to call 911 if they see someone pointing a laser at an aircraft.

No injuries have resulted, but previous incidents have caused pilots to be so distracted or disoriented that they had to land, cancel landings or take evasive action — diverting them from their law-enforcement or public-safety tasks, the department said.

"When the laser hits the plexiglass windshield, it refracts the light and fills the cockpit with laser light, causing disorientation or temporary blindness," Sgt. Morrie Zager, a helicopter pilot assigned to the s Aero Bureau, said in a news release. "It has caused long-term damage to some pilots. This is a serious matter. The pilot's disorientation could cause loss of control of the aircraft."

The most recent incident occurred April 26 at 10:47 p.m. Department pilots reported to deputies on the ground that a person in a car near Interstate 5 and Rosemead Boulevard was pointing a laser at them. Deputies from the Pico Rivera station immediately responded and stopped the car as it was traveling south on the 605 Freeway.

In the car was a 16-year-old Los Alamitos resident with a green laser penlight. The suspect admitted that he had pointed it at the chopper as it flew overhead, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

The juvenile, who name has not been released, was arrested and later released to his parents. He must appear in juvenile court to face the felony charge.

in 2010, nationwide reports of lasers pointed at aircraft almost doubled from the previous year to more than 2,800. Los Angeles International Airport recorded 102 incidents, the highest number in the country, federal officials said.

“This is a serious safety issue,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in January. “Lasers can distract and harm pilots who are working to get passengers safely to their destinations.”

Monday’s demonstration of laser risks will take place at the Biscailuz Center in East Los Angeles.

-- Howard Blume