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Houston Man Faces Federal Criminal Charges after Shining Laser Pointer at Commercial Airlines and Police Helicopter

22 October 2015No Comments

In Houston, federal officials officially unveiled the arrest of and charges against an unemployed, 26 year old male for intentionally interfering with the operation of an aircraft by way of using a laser pointer device. Officials charged Julio Cesar Valdez Salazar with violating portions of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which criminalized the use of a laser pointer against any aircraft as a felony in violation of Title 18, USC Chapter 2, Section 39a. Like many other states, Texas’ criminal codes also have criminalized shining a laser pointer at or into an aircraft as a misdemeanor criminal violation.

FAA officials note that in cases involving night flying and with lower-flying aircraft, such as helicopters, the visual disturbances caused by the laser devices jeopardize the safety of the public and the aircraft, and historically, have resulted in retinal injuries to FAA licenses pilots in previous incidents. However, the phenomena remains relatively common despite both federal and state laws prohibiting the act, with the FAA reporting that nearly 5,000 laser incidents reported by aircraft in the first three quarters of 2015 alone with the practice increasing, or being reported, exponentially more since the inception of the law. However, FAA officials do note that while reports of incidents are common, only a small number of arrests have been made under the federal laws prohibiting this type of criminal interference with the operation of an aircraft. To date, the FAA has conceded that no laser pointer incidents have been a contributory or proximate cause of any known aviation accidents, however, pilots have reported relinquishing control of an aircraft to a co-pilot in light of acute visual disturbances stemming from the visual shock of the laser in a darkened cockpit.

In this Houston laser pointer incident involving alleged perpetrated Salazaar this past June, the following events transpired according to HPD officials, including:

  • Both United Express Flights 4516 and 4515 originating in Houston reported laser pointer incidents within minutes of another in the same location by way of altering FAA officials and local law enforcement
  • Houston Police Department officials then conducted a search and sweep of the suspected vicinity of the ongoing laser pointer attacks on airline cockpits via the use of an HPD police helicopter
  • In the course of their investigation and surveillance, the police helicopter itself sustained laser pointer interference from the ground, which ironically helped officials located Salazar in this apartment with the assistance of the Pasadena police department
  • Salazar ultimately admitted to owning an approximately $10 laser device, which he confessed was used to shine into the three aircraft cockpits now part of the ongoing criminal inquiry now being conducted with lead from the Federal Bureau Investigation

Though prosecutors initially demanded that Salazar be held without bond, federal magistrates concurred with public defenders representing Salazar and offered conditional release pending the outcome of his federal felony charge that carries with it fines up to $250,000 dollars and incarceration for as long as five (5) years under federal statutes.

References:

https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers/laws/

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/granule/USCODE-2012-title18/USCODE-2012-title18-partI-chap2-sec39A

http://www.click2houston.com/news/man-accused-of-pointing-laser-at-hpd-helicopter/35883222

http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/pasadena/news/pasadena-man-arrested-for-aiming-laser-at-hpd-helicopter/article_6977a8c4-5ba6-5c6c-acc7-d52ed558bc90.html

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