An idiot who directed a laser at a police helicopter, temporarily blinding the pilot while he was searching for a shooting suspect, has been sent down for four-and-a-quarter years.
John Shorey, 39, was sentenced this week in San Antonio, Texas, for pointing a laser pointer at the helicopter in February 2019, hitting the pilot in the eyes and making it hard for him to read the craft's gauges. At the time, the pilot was flying over a highway, and was in the path of San Antonio International Airport, making the danger of being blinded that much more acute.
The pilot and the tactical officer immediately gave chase, at which point Shorey admitted that he again started pointing the laser beam at the aircraft as it headed toward him. The helicopter eventually landed at the airport and, prosecutors noted, “the injury to the pilot’s eyes caused by the defendant’s actions resulted in the pilot being unable to fly for a week.”
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The issue of “lasing” has become a big problem in recent years thanks in large part to the ready availability of cheap, powerful laser pointers. The number of lasing incidents jumped to 3,960 in 2013 – 11 per day – and the following year the FBI decided it needed to force people to take the issue more seriously.
To highlight the fact that it was a federal crime to point a laser at an aircraft, the FBI offered $10,000 as a reward for information leading to an arrest for lasing – a program it later expanded. Despite that effort, the following year, the issue got worse with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reporting 20 incidents on a single Wednesday night in 2015.
Still a problem
Despite a number of jail sentences in both the US and the UK, lasing continues to be a problem. In 2016, a transatlantic Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to New York had to turn around and return to London after the co-pilot was dazzled by a laser.
That incident sparked stricter laws in the UK with a possible jail sentence expanded to five years for anyone that trains a laser pointer at ships, aircraft or air traffic control towers.
Despite greater awareness of how dangerous lasing is – and the arrests and jail sentences that come with doing it – it's still a problem, the authorities say. The 51-month jail term this week for John Shorey “should serve as a warning to others who engage in this dangerous criminal activity,” said the FBI special agent in charge of the case, Christopher Combs.
“When aimed at an aircraft, the powerful beam of light from a hand-held laser can travel more than a mile and illuminate a cockpit, disorienting and temporarily blinding pilots. Lasing an aircraft represents a significant public safety threat, which endangers pilots, aircrew, passengers, and individuals on the ground, should an aircraft crash or require an emergency landing,” he warned. ®