Judge Slams Man with 14-Year Sentence for 'Lasing' Helicopter

  • Mar 11, 2014 3:46pm GMT

A 26-year old California man learns "lasing" a helicopter is no joke after a federal judge sentenced him to 14-years in prison.

Police arrested Sergio Rodriguez and his girlfriend within minutes of pointing a green hand-held laser at a police helicopter in 2012.

U.S. News and World Reports initially reported the story and the judge's stiff sentence on Tuesday.

By Steven Nelson

A federal judge ordered 26-year-old Sergio Rodriguez to spend the next 14 years in prison Monday for “lasing” a police helicopter as a national crackdown on people who point lasers at aircraft intensifies.

Rodriguez was arrested in 2012 and convicted in December 2013 of attempting to interfere with the operation of an aircraft, which comes with a maximum 20-year sentence. His girlfriend Jennifer Coleman, now 23, was convicted of pointing a laser at an aircraft, a federal crime established months before the Clovis, Calif., couple’s arrest that’s punishable by five years in prison. She will be sentenced May 12.

The 14-year sentence is one of the stiffest so far for “lasing” an aircraft.

Although it’s unclear if an airplane or helicopter has crashed as a result of being laser-flashed, pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation say the hand-held devices can temporarily blind pilots during landings and take-off, potentially causing a calamity.

The FBI announced in February a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of people who amuse themselves by pointing inexpensive store-bought laser pointers at an aircraft. At least 3,960 laser attacks were reported in 2013, the bureau said, part of a multiyear upswing in incidents.

[REPORT: Laser Toys Can Damage Eyes]

Douglas Ralph, a Delta Air Lines captain, told U.S. News the FBI bounty - and subsequent prosecutions - would likely frighten “lasing” culprits and teens into complying with the law.

“After you start making some examples of these people, the incidents should decline,” he said.

Rodriguez’s attorney at trial, Dale Blickenstaff, tells U.S. News an appeal will be filed. If attempts to toss the conviction are unsuccessful, Rodriguez would likely face a minimum of 12 years behind bars, he says, factoring a 15 percent sentence reduction for good behavior and a one-year credit for time served.

A different attorney, however, is handling the appeal.

Rodriguez and Coleman were nabbed pointing a green laser beam at a police helicopter that was responding to a hospital transport helicopter’s report of a laser strike near the Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill called Rodriguez a "walking crime spree" at sentencing, citing probation violations and alleged gang ties.

Anti-lasing officials hailed the tough penalty as a victory.

“Rodriguez’s sentence clearly demonstrates the seriousness of his actions and that the FBI will work with its law enforcement partners to locate and arrest those who engage in dangerous, improper use of hand-held lasers that puts us all at risk,” said Monica Miller, special agent in charge at the FBI’s Sacramento field office.