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article imageMan who fired laser 50 times at CHP plane sentenced to jail

By Megan Hamilton     Nov 6, 2014 in Crime
Fresno - A Central California man has been sentenced on Monday to one year in jail for firing a laser 50 times at a California Highway Patrol (CHP) plane, Ars Technica reports.
Andrew Zarate, 20, of Fresno, was sentenced for allegedly firing the powerful green laser at Air 43, a CHP plane.
Firing lasers at planes, helicopters and other aircraft is reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S.
The FBI began keeping track of these incidents in 2005, and since that time, there have been over 17,000 laser strikes, and one-fifth (3,960) have occurred in 2013 alone. In the first three months of 2014, the FBI recorded an average of 9.5 incidents daily, per Ars Technica.
No serious injuries or deaths have occurred, but pilots say that being struck by a laser can often be a terrifying experience that can cause temporary blindness.
A statement provided by federal prosecutors said that the CHP plane was struck 50 times, causing the pilot to suffer temporary blindness. The plane was "forced to break away from a burglary in progress at a Fresno middle school. The CHP pilot reported that he gets struck by lasers almost every night, and this incident was 'the worst,'" per Ars Technica.
Co-defendant David Walter Fee, 22, also of Fresno, was sentenced in September to 18 months, according to a press release issued by federal prosecutors.
Fresno is located in California's Eastern District and federal prosecutors reported that more than 82 laser strikes occurred in 2013 — with more than six laser illumination incidents per month. So far, in 2014 there has been an average of 11.5 laser incidents reported each month in this district, with Fresno reporting more than any other city in the region, Ars Technica reports.
This problem is on the uptick in Canada as well. Incidences in Canada rose from 108 laser strikes in 2009 to 443 in 2013, Maryse Durette, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada told Ars Technica, in this article.
"In 2005, there were 311 and in 2013 we had approximately 4,000 incidents. There was a significant uptick," John Kitzinger, the head of the FBI's Violent Crime Unit told Ars Technica. "We believe that [it's] because these lasers are eaily obtained, they're inexpensive, from the internet. And a big part of the problem here is that a lot of times subjects that are engaging in this type of behavior are not aware of how serious it is."
Pangolin offers an illustration of just how seriously laser pointers can affect pilots.
For its part, the FBI is also offering reward money for tips leading to pranksters who do this, CNN reports.
The FBI is having some success. It takes time and work to track down the source of the laser, but it can be done with a helicopter, a dispatcher, and squad cars.
So far the organization has mainly caught teenage boys and men in their 30's. The price for this ridiculous indiscretion? A possible five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The FBI isn't the only place putting a bounty on prankster's heads.
Earlier this year, 11 cities in the U.S. as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico, offered as much as $10,000 for information leading to arrests, CNN reported.
New York and Los Angeles are two cities where these attacks are quite common, and they often obstruct pilots in the middle of their jobs.
"When a laser light flashes across the cockpit, it's about 25 percent brighter than a flashlight flashing in your face," Stephen Woolery, an FBI agent pursuing pranksters told CNN. "So what that does is, that can cause temporary incapacitation."
In fact, a direct hit can be so devastating that it can burn the cornea, and this has put pilots in the hospital.
Fortunately, no laser strikes have been known to cause a pilot to crash, but the FBI fears it's only a matter of time before this happens.
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