The Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff STARR helicopter has been struck by a green laser pointer in three separate incidents recently during a six-week period. Discharging a laser at an aircraft is extremely dangerous. The cockpit will suddenly light-up with a bright green light. This can cause the pilot and crew members to become disoriented and lose their night vision for several minutes.
On September 18th and 26th, STARR was struck by multiple laser strikes while flying over the city of Antioch. On November 1st, STARR was struck by laser strikes while over Pittsburg.
According to Jimmy Lee, spokesperson for the Sheriffs Office, he confirmed that on Sept. 18, three Antioch men were arrested (ages 19, 20 and 23). On Sept. 26, a 28-year-old Antioch man was arrested. While on November 1, a 58-year-old Pittsburg man was arrested.
(This edited video captured by the STARR helicopter shows multiple laser strikes. At two minutes, the police pull up to the house. At 2:09, police contact the suspect and arrest him).
In each case, the suspects were located using STARR’s FLIR (forward looking infrared) and mapping technology. Local police responded to the locations and arrested the suspects. These cases have been forwarded to the DA’s Office for prosecution.
Discharging a laser into an aircraft is a federal crime. Offenders could face hefty penalties from the Federal Aviation Administration. In California, Penal Code section 247. 5 states:
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 $1,000, or a felony by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h), of section 1170 for 16 months, two years, or three years, or by a fine of $2,000 (repeat offenders).
“Discharging a laser at an aircraft not only poses a danger to the those onboard the helicopter, but also those on the ground,” said Lieutenant Jose Beltran of the Air Support Unit. “The Office of the Sheriff will continue to locate and identify offenders and pursue criminal prosecution.”
Anyone with any information on individuals pointing a laser at an aircraft is asked to report the incident to their local law enforcement agency.