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Press Release

Three Indicted For Shining Lasers At Law Enforcement Aircraft In Fresno And Bakersfield

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury in Fresno returned two indictments today charging three men in two separate cases with aiming green laser pointers at law enforcement aircraft, announced U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner and Monica Miller, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office.

The federal statute used to charge the defendants is part of legislation signed into law in 2012 by President Obama that makes it a federal crime to knowingly aim the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft.

Reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years as powerful laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. The focused beams of a laser remain powerful at extended viewing distances and can expose pilots and their crew members and passengers 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 blindness and after images. Prolonged exposure to high-powered laser beams can result in permanent eye injury.

Laser Strike on Kern County Sheriff Helicopter
Timothy Earl Wilson, 46, of Bakersfield, was charged with aiming a laser pointer at Air‑1, a Kern County Sheriff’s Office helicopter. According to court records, Air-1 was struck by a powerful green laser multiple times. As a result of the laser strikes, the tactical flight officer experienced a feeling of pressure, throbbing and irritation in his eyes that lasted 30 minutes, and the flight crew was forced to divert attention away from routine patrol.

Wilson was charged with the laser offense following a joint investigation conducted by the FBI’s Bakersfield and Long Beach Offices and Kern County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting these cases.

Wilson was also charged by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office with drug-related violations and resisting arrest.

Laser Strike on CHP Aircraft
David Walter Fee, 22, and Andrew Zarate, 20, both of Fresno, were charged with aiming a laser pointer at Air 43, a California Highway Patrol aircraft. According to court records, Air 43 was struck up to 50 times by a powerful green laser pointer. As a result, the pilot suffered temporary blindness and Air 43 was forced to break away from a burglary in progress at a Fresno middle school.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s Fresno Office, California Highway Patrol, and Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen A. Escobar and Michael G. Tierney are prosecuting this case.

Wilson is scheduled for arraignment on the indictment on April 21, 2014. Fee and Zarate are scheduled for arraignment on April 18, 2014. All three men face a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of up to $250,000, if convicted. Any actual sentence would 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.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Updated April 8, 2015