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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Targeting Pilots With Laser-Beam Pointers

     According to the Civil Aviation Authority, from 2009 to 2012, there had been more than 4,500 reports of pilots being targeted by laser-beam pointers. These commercially available devices produce a narrow, high-intensity light that grows in diameter with distance. If hit in the eyes, pilots could be temporarily blinded. In February 2012, Congress made aiming a laser-beam at an aircraft a federal crime.

     On March 29, 2012, a 19-year-old North Hollywood, California man named Adam Gardenhire aimed his laser pen at the pilot of a NetJet Cessna Citation as it approached for landing at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. According to the pilot of the business jet, the beam impaired his vision for several hours.

     Gardenhire compounded his crime when he targeted the pilot of a Pasadena police helicopter dispatched to locate the source of the laser-beam. Because he wore protective eye gear, the chopper pilot was not affected by Gardenhire's laser attack.

     In April 2012, following his identification by Los Angeles County detectives, a federal grand jury indicted Gardenhire for pointing his laser-beam device at the aircraft. He faced a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. Six months later, the laser pointer pleaded guilty to the federal charges.

     The Assistant United States Attorney, at Gardenhire's March 2013 sentence hearing, characterized the defendant's behavior as a criminally reckless disregard for aircraft safety. Gardenhire's attorney claimed that his client had no idea the borrowed laser pen was powerful enough to distract a pilot thousands of feet away. The defense attorney asked that Mr. Gardenhire be sentenced to two years probation, a fine, and community service.

     The federal judge sentenced Adam Gardenhire to thirty months in federal prison. Targeting that police helicopter had not been a good idea.

     Adam Gardenhire was the second person to be convicted of this federal crime. In August 2012, a Florida man went to prison for six months for the same offense. If one of these laser pointers actually causes a plane to crash, Congress would probably ban the device.

    In May 2015, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Adam Gardenhire's prison sentence was too harsh. The appellate court justices rule sentence should not have exceeded ten months.

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