Couple Plays Beam Me Up With Helicopters

January 2, 2014

Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, a/k.a Javier Rodrigues, 26, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, were both sitting around one night near Clovis, CA and thought it might be fun to play with their high-powered green laser pointer - their model was 13 times more powerful than the permissible power emission level for hand-held laser devices.  And what did these two morons think would be a fun target? Oh, how about Air George, the emergency transport helicopter ambulance used by the Children's Hospital of Central California. And if that's not bad enough, these two jerks also targeted Air-1, a Fresno Police Department helicopter.

The defendants were charged with deliberately targeting Air George while it was en route to transport a patient to Children's Hospital. Let me underscore that, these idiots thought it would be fun to try and blind the crew of a helicopter preparing to transport an ill child.

After receiving reports of the laser attack on the hospital helicopter, the Fresno Police Department sent its Air-1 to the area of the attacks, and as it circled the defendants' apartment complex, the defendants pointed their laser into the cockpit. 

Read a full-text copy of the Criminal Complaint.

The Glare Of Justice

A March 2013 federal Indictment charged the couple with:
  • two counts of aiming a laser pointer, 
  • two counts of attempting to interfere with the safe operation of the helicopters, and 
  • one count of conspiracy to interfere with the safe operation. 
If convicted, the defendants faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Flying Blind

Because they tend to fly at lower altitudes, law enforcement and emergency transport helicopters are particularly vulnerable to laser pointer attacks; and, further given the convex-shaped windows used on these craft,  there is greater refraction of the beam, resulting in an increased likelihood of visual interference. Similarly, when the crew uses night-vision goggles, those devices often dangerously amplify the laser beam. Air One and Air George crew testified that the laser strikes caused significant visual interference

The FBI reports 3,482 aircraft laser strikes in 2012, about 10 daily; and by 2013, that number had risen to 11 daily. Laser beams expose pilots and their crew members and passengers to radiation levels above those considered to be flight safe. With the affordability and portability of many devices, such incidents are likely to increase. The dangers posed by such attacks run the gamut of temporary visual impairments to permanent eye injury. 

Jury Verdict

Following a three-day trial, on December 20, 2013, a federal jury found Rodriguez and Coleman guilty of their attacks on Air One. The press releases do not explain the non-verdict involving the Air George crew. Rodriguez faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for attempting to interfere with the operation of Air One. Both face a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for aiming a laser pointer at Air One. 

Also READShotgun And Laser Fired At Biplane And Helicopter (BrokeAndBroker, September 28, 2012)