SAN DIEGO—A man who aimed a laser pointer at a San Diego County sheriff’s helicopter and commercial aircraft pleaded guilty Dec. 14 to a federal crime.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement that the Federal Aviation Administration received a series of reports on June 12, 2021, that a laser was being trained on commercial aircraft as they were landing at San Diego International Airport.
Sheriff’s officials were notified and tracked the origin of the laser to National City.
A sheriff’s helicopter responding to the area spotted Ruben Ricardo Rodriguez, 33, who aimed a laser pointer into the chopper’s cockpit multiple times, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The charge of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft carries a maximum possible term of five years in prison.
In recent years, a Lemon Grove man was convicted by a San Diego federal jury for shining a laser pointer at a San Diego police helicopter during a protest in the summer of 2020. He was sentenced to five years of probation.
Another man who directed a laser at a San Diego Police Department chopper multiple times during a different 2020 protest pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in prison.
The FAA says on its website that “Intentionally aiming lasers at aircrafts poses a safety threat to pilots and violates federal law. Many high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that may be carrying hundreds of passengers.”
According to the FAA, there were 9,723 “laser incidents” in 2021 and 9,457 last year. The FAA says it can impose penalties of up to $11,000 per violation and has imposed penalties of up to $30,800 against people for multiple laser incidents.