United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Bakersfield Man Charged with Lasering Sheriff Helicopter
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
CONTACT: Lauren Horwood
March 3, 2011
PHONE: (916) 554-2706
FRESNO, Calif. — United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced that a federal
grand jury has returned an indictment today charging Jeffrey Lee Gentry, 33, of Bakersfield, with
interfering with the safe operation of a Kern County Sheriff’s Department helicopter by shining a
hand-held laser into the cockpit.
The case is the product of a joint investigation conducted by the FBI, the Bakersfield
Police Department, and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, as part of the Bakersfield Laser Strike
Working Group (LSWG). The LSWG investigates laser strike cases and includes the U.S.
Attorney’s Office, FBI, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), California Highway
Patrol, Kern County District Attorney’s Office, Kern County Airport Police, Kern County
Sheriff’s Office, Kern County Fire Department, Bakersfield Police Department, and Bakersfield
Fire Department. It was created in early 2010 in response to numerous incidents in Bakersfield
involving lasers aimed at aircraft cockpits. Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar is
prosecuting the case.
Court documents and hearings in this case indicate that on November 6, 2010, a powerful
green laser beam tracked a Kern County Sheriff’s Department helicopter during a routine patrol
in Bakersfield. The beam struck the cockpit four times while the aircraft was flying 500 feet
above the ground and temporarily blinded and disoriented the pilot and spotter, causing the
aircraft to veer off course. The pilot and spotter were able to pinpoint the origin of the laser beam
to Gentry’s residence, where Bakersfield Police officers found Gentry, who retrieved the laser
from within his residence and handed it over to the officers.
Lasers, an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, pose a
safety hazard to flight operations. The focused beams of a laser light remain powerful at extended
viewing distances and can expose pilots to radiation levels above those considered to be flight
safe. Brief exposure to even a relatively low-powered laser beam can cause discomfort and
temporary visual impairments, such as glare, flash blind, and afterimages. The effect is amplified
when the viewer is wearing goggles or eyeglasses. Both the pilot and spotter were wearing night
vision goggles at the time of this incident. According to the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA), incidents involving laser illumination of aircraft occur daily and occur with significantly
higher frequency in the Western Pacific Region.
U.S. Attorney Wagner stated, “The lasering of an aircraft is a serious offense, which
compromises the safety of flight crews and passengers and can cause significant damage to their
Gentry is scheduled to appear for arraignment on the indictment before a United States
Magistrate Judge in Fresno on Friday, March 4, 2011. He is in custody.
If convicted, Gentry faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 fine.
The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration
of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take
into account a number of variables.
The charge is only an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless
proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Anyone with information regarding the lasering of an aircraft should contact the FBI. The
number for the Bakersfield Office of the FBI is (661) 323- 9665.
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