Occupational Health & Safety

Fourteen-Year Prison Sentence Handed Down in Laser Pointing Case

The defendant, Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, 26, of Clovis, Calif., was convicted of aiming a laser pointer at a Fresno police helicopter in 2012.

A federal judge has sentenced Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, 26, of Clovis, Calif., to 14 years in prison for aiming a laser pointer at a Fresno police helicopter in 2012. U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner of the Eastern District of California, whose office prosecuted the case against Rodriguez and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, said March 10 that the 14-year term handed down by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill of Fresno is believed to be the longest sentence given in any laser-strike case. Rodriguez and Coleman were convicted of the charge by a federal jury after a three-day trial in Fresno in December 2013. Coleman faces a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine at sentencing May 12, 2014.

The Air Line Pilots Association, International issued a statement supporting the stiff sentence. "ALPA applauds the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The Eastern District of California U.S. District Court, and the Clovis and Fresno Police Departments for their vigilance in the investigation and conviction of this case. ALPA has collaborated with the FBI and local law enforcement to launch a nationwide campaign that raises awareness about the severity of illegal laser attacks on aircraft," it stated. "Law enforcement and emergency transport helicopters are particularly vulnerable to these types of attack, since they typically fly at lower altitudes where laser pointers pose the most danger to an aircraft in flight. Mr. Rodriguez has been convicted of deliberately aiming a high-powered laser at multiple aircraft, and we hope that his sentencing, along with the future sentencing of his accomplice, will help to spread the message to others that intentionally aiming a laser at an aircraft is not a prank, but a federal crime with very serious consequences."

Rodriguez and Coleman were convicted of using a high-powered green laser pointer to repeatedly strike the cockpit of the "Air 1" helicopter during a clear summer night in 2012. It had responded to the apartment complex where they lived to investigate a report of laser strikes on Air George, an emergency transport helicopter for Children's Hospital of Central California.

In February 2014, the FBI and ALPA announced the Laser Threat Awareness campaign, which is an effort to alert the public about the threat laser strikes pose and the penalties for such activity. The FBI will offer up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who intentionally aims a laser at an aircraft. Tips can be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov.

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