Jury Convicts Couple for Shining Laser at Fresno Police Helicopter

Fresno, California - After a three day trial, a federal jury found Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, 25, and Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, residents of Clovis, California, guilty today of aiming a laser pointer at a Fresno Police helicopter, Air One, and, as to Rodriguez, attempting to interfere with the operation of Air One, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. The trial was held before United States District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill.

According to evidence presented at trial, Rodriguez and Coleman used a high-powered green laser pointer to repeatedly strike the cockpit of Air One during a clear summer night last year. Air One had responded to the apartment complex where Rodriguez and Coleman resided near the Fresno Yosemite International Airport to investigate the report of laser strikes on Air George, an emergency transport helicopter for Children’s Hospital of Central California. The laser pointer that Rodriguez and Coleman used was 13 times more powerful than the permissible power emission level for hand-held laser devices. The crew members of both Air One and Air George testified that the laser strikes caused significant visual interference.

“Lasers can be a serious public safety threat when they are aimed at aircraft,” said United States Attorney Wagner. “We will continue to investigate, prosecute, and seek prison time for those who engage in such reckless and dangerous behavior.”

This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Clovis and Fresno Police Departments, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Assistant United States Attorneys Karen A. Escobar and Michael G. Tierney are prosecuting the case.

Rodriguez was previously ordered detained as a flight risk. Coleman remains out of custody pending sentencing.

Rodriguez and Coleman are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge O'Neill on March 10, 2014. 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. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

According to the FAA, there have been over 3,400 reports of people shining lasers at aircraft in the United States in 2013. Law enforcement and emergency transport helicopters are particularly vulnerable, since they typically fly at lower altitudes. Their convex-shaped windows also cause greater refraction and visual interference when the beam of a laser strikes. Night-vision goggles can also amplify the beam and pose a greater threat of visual interference.

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