SANTA ANA, California – A Santa Ana man pled guilty today to intentionally aiming a laser pointer at a law enforcement helicopter.
Mario Deleon Lopez, 35, pled guilty before United States District Judge Andrew J. Guilford. Lopez’s sentencing was set for July 18 at which time he will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison.
On the evening of November 14, 2015, tactical flight deputies with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department were patrolling over Santa Ana when their helicopter was struck with the beam of a laser, according to investigators. The pilots reported that their aircraft was struck multiple times with a green laser that illuminated the helicopter’s cockpit.
Following the alleged laser attacks, the deputies, along with the Santa Ana Police Department, successfully tracked the source of the laser to a suspect located in the backyard of a residence in Santa Ana. Police on the ground responded to the residence and took Lopez into custody on state charges of pointing a laser at an aircraft. Lopez subsequently posted bail and was released from local custody while the federal investigation continued and culminated with the filing of the indictment.
“This defendant created a dangerous situation for the pilot of the helicopter as well as other innocent bystanders on the ground,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This crime was senseless, but the prosecution highlights the excellent skills and training of the helicopter pilot and the law enforcement team that was able to identify and arrest this defendant.”
This investigation into Lopez was conducted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Ana Police Department and the FBI.
Reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years as laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. In addition, technology has improved the effectiveness of laser devices, with a resulting increase in the potential safety hazards for pilots operating aircraft, as well as their passengers and crew. Such safety hazards include temporary distraction and impaired vision, which is particularly dangerous during the critical takeoff or landing phase of flight. California consistently leads the nation in reports of laser attacks. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, which compiles statistics on the number of laser strikes in the United States, 3,960 laser attacks were reported nationwide in 2013.