Jury Finds Bakersfield Man Guilty of Laser Strikes on Kern County Sheriff’s Helicopter
FRESNO, Calif. — After a two-day trial, Barry Lee Bowser Jr., 52, of Bakersfield, was found guilty today of one count of aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to court documents, on September 12, 2014, Bowser aimed the beam of a green laser at Air-1, a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter while it was providing support to ground units responding to a man armed with a gun. The helicopter was struck two times by a powerful green laser from a distance of about 1/8 mile. The beam of the laser appeared to track the helicopter, which was flying at about 400 to 500 feet above the ground. The helicopter’s mission was diverted near the approach to Meadows Field Airport because of the laser strike. The pilot experienced flash blindness and eye discomfort and pain that lasted several hours.
According to evidence presented at trial, the officers pinpointed the source of the laser to a commercial property and motorhome surrounded by a chain link fence on Sillect Avenue in Bakersfield. Bowser, who was residing in the motorhome, admitted to the officers that he had just placed new batteries in the laser and was testing its capabilities.
This case is the product of an investigation by the FBI, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Bayleigh Pettigrew are prosecuting the case.
Bowser is scheduled to be sentence by United States District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neil on September 28, 2015. Bowser faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
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 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received 3,894 reports of incidents involving laser strikes on aircraft. In the Eastern District of California, which encompasses 34 counties in the eastern portion of California, there were 150 reported laser incidents, with Bakersfield and Fresno leading in the number of reported incidents. Lasers can completely incapacitate pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destination, endangering their crew members, passengers and people on the ground.