California Man Gets 14 Years for Laser Incident

** Fresno Police Department helicopter**

Convicted of pointing a high-power laser at a police helicopter in 2012, 26-year-old Sergio Rodriguez has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. Rodriguez targeted a Fresno Police helicopter with a laser estimated to be many times more powerful than a pen-size "pointer." According to an AP story, the officers in the helicopter were investigating reports of another laser incident involving a medical helicopter flying over the apartment complex from which Rodriguez aimed his laser at the police.

"This is not a game," admonished U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in a statement. "It is dangerous and it is a felony." Judge Lawrence O'Neill, as part of his sentencing, described Rodriguez as a "walking crime spree" with a criminal history of several probation violations and gang connections, according to prosecutors.

Last year, the FAA reported 3,960 cases of people shining lasers at aircraft in U.S. airspace. Even lower-power lasers can blind pilots, and the felony act is considered interfering with the safe operation of an aircraft. Rodriguez's attorney argued for a lesser sentence, maintaining the defendant meant no harm and was only playing with the low-cost laser that he got from a retail store.

The 14-year sentence is, by far, the harshest yet handed down for aiming a laser at an aircraft in California, according to a spokeswoman Lauren Horwood. The next longest sentence to date for the crime was three years and one month. Rodriguez's 23-year-old girlfriend was also convicted of one count of pointing a laser at an aircraft and will be sentenced in May.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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