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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fresno Man Sentenced for Striking Police Helicopter with Powerful Laser

FRESNO, Calif. — Johnny Alexander Quenga, 29, of Fresno, was sentenced today to six months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release for aiming the beam of a laser pointer at Air 1, a Fresno Police helicopter, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to court documents, Quenga repeatedly struck Air 1 with a powerful green laser attached to an airsoft rifle. As a result, the airmen experienced visual interference, flash blindness, after-imaging, a persistent headache lasting several hours, and dizziness. On October 26, 2015, Quenga pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.

“Our continued partnership with the Fresno Police Department helps us address laser strikes in the area in an effort to protect both law enforcement and the public from the significant danger this activity presents,” said Supervisory Special Agent Robert Guyton of the Fresno resident agency of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office. “We encourage the public to immediately report any individual who shines a laser on aircraft or motor vehicles to stop this dangerous behavior.”

Two Fresno police officers, who were responding to calls to assist in the investigation of the laser incident, collided with a civilian motorist at a busy intersection in northeast Fresno. The officers and civilian were seriously hurt or suffered significant property damage as a result of the accident, which Quenga was monitoring via a police scanner application on his iPhone.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years as powerful laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. In 2015, the FAA received 7,702 reports of incidents involving laser strikes on aircraft in the United States. In the Eastern District of California, which encompasses 34 counties in the eastern portion of California, there were 214 reported incidents in 2015, with the majority in Fresno. Lasers can completely incapacitate pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destination, endangering their crew members, passengers and people on the ground.

The case against Quenga was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar prosecuted the case.

Press Release Number: 
1:15-cr-087 AWI
Updated February 4, 2016