Home Sacramento Press Releases 2013 Clovis Man Pleads Guilty to Pointing a Laser at an Aircraft

Clovis Man Pleads Guilty to Pointing a Laser at an Aircraft

U.S. Attorney’s Office November 04, 2013
  • Eastern District of California (916) 554-2700

FRESNO, CA—Charles Conrad Mahaffey, 23, of Clovis, pleaded guilty today to aiming a laser at a Fresno County Sheriff’s helicopter, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

The federal statute used to charge Mahaffey is part of legislation signed into law last year by President Obama that makes it a federal crime to knowingly aim the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft.

Reports of laser incidents have increased dramatically in recent years as powerful laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. According to the FBI, there have been over 2,646 incidents of lasers being pointed at aircraft reported in the United States in 2013. Laser beams pose a serious safety hazard to flight operations. The focused beams of a laser remain powerful at extended viewing distances and can expose pilots and their crew members and passengers to radiation levels above those considered to be flight safe. Brief exposure to even a relatively low-powered laser beam can cause discomfort and temporary visual impairments such as glare, flash blindness and after images. Prolonged exposure to high-powered laser beams has resulted in permanent eye injury.

According to court documents, Mahaffey struck Fresno County Sheriff’s Eagle 1 helicopter with a powerful red laser while it was assisting ground units. As a result, Eagle 1 was forced to abort its mission. With the help of the Clovis Police Department, the pilot was able to locate the source of the laser and identify Mahaffey as the suspect.

Mahaffey is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill on January 27, 2014. Mahaffey faces a maximum sentence of five years prison and a $250,000 fine. 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.

This case is the product of an investigation by the FBI, the Clovis Police Department, and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.