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Press Release

Union County, New Jersey, Man Arrested, Charged With Aiming Laser Pointer At WABC-TV Helicopter

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. - A Union County, New Jersey, man was arrested today and charged with aiming a laser pointer at a WABC-TV helicopter, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Stiven Lopez-Bender, 26, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, was charged by complaint with one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.  Lopez-Bender is scheduled to make his initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven C. Mannion in Newark federal court. 

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

On Nov. 11, 2015, a reporter working for WABC-TV, Channel 7, New York, an affiliate of ABC Inc., requested a helicopter operator, also working on behalf of WABC, to fly the helicopter to a location in Elizabeth to cover a story on a house fire.  At approximately 5:20 pm, while facing south at an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet, a green laser was aimed at and struck the flight deck of the helicopter through the main windshield. 

The reporter and the helicopter operator saw Lopez-Bender emerge from a sports utility vehicle, reach into the passenger side, and then point a green laser at the helicopter, causing a second laser strike to the helicopter.

The helicopter operator lowered the helicopter to approximately 500 feet.  As Lopez-Bender walked towards an apartment building, Lopez-Bender turned and again pointed the green laser towards the helicopter before entering the apartment building.   

The helicopter operator then circled the area at an altitude of approximately 800 feet.

Within approximately 10 minutes, the helicopter was again lasered from a window in the apartment building Lopez-Bender had just entered. 

The count with which Lopez-Bender is charged carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents, detectives and investigators assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, under the direction of FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel, and members of the Elizabeth Police Department, under the direction of Police Director James Cosgrove, with the investigation leading to the charge.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joyce M. Malliet of the National Security Unit in Newark.

The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Updated June 17, 2016

Press Release Number: 16-007