Bakersfield Man Sentenced for Striking Sheriff’s Helicopter with Laser
FRESNO, Calif. —Pablo Cesar Sahagun, 26, a citizen of Mexico and resident of Bakersfield, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for aiming the beam of a laser pointer at a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
On January 11, 2016, Sahagun pleaded guilty to aiming a beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft. According to court documents, he repeatedly struck and tracked a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter, Air-1, with the beam of a green laser pointer. The laser pointer was key-activated and labeled as a Laser 301, a device that purports to emit a one-watt laser beam, which is 2,000 times more powerful than what is legally permissible for a laser pointer. The laser strikes caused the airmen to experience flash blindness, glare, blurry vision, eye discomfort, headache and irritation.
In sentencing Sahagun, United States District Judge Dale A. Drozd stated: “This is an egregious case of a laser strike. … The circumstances are inexplicable.”
Reports of laser attacks on aircraft have increased dramatically in recent years as powerful laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. From 2011 to 2015, there have been over 23,000 laser illumination incidents in the United States reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This year there have been over 22 laser strikes reported in the United States every day. In the Eastern District of California, which encompasses 34 counties in the eastern portion of California, there were 214 reported laser incidents in 2015. Lasers can completely incapacitate pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destination, endangering their crew members, passengers and people on the ground.
This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar prosecuted the case.