November 18, 2015

Bakersfield Resident Pleads Guilty to Laser Strike of Sheriff’s Helicopter

FRESNO, CA—Jose Javier Rosas, 62, of Bakersfield, entered a guilty plea today to aiming the beam of a laser pointer at Air-1, a Kern County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

In pleading guilty, Rosas acknowledged that at the beginning of this year he struck and tracked Air-1 with a green laser pointer during the evening hours. As a result, the pilot experienced glare, flash blindness, significant loss of night vision, watering eyes, and eye pain and was forced to disengage from a robbery investigation.

Reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years as powerful laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. In 2014, there were 3,894 reports of incidents involving laser strikes on aircraft. This year, there have been 5,530 laser incidents reported in the United States through October 23, 2015 (or more than 18 per day). In the Eastern District of California, which encompasses 34 counties, including Kern County, there were 150 reported incidents in 2014. This year, in the Eastern District of California, Bakersfield has the highest number of reported laser incidents. Lasers can completely incapacitate pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destination, endangering their crew members, passengers and people on the ground.

Rosas is scheduled for sentencing on February 1, 2015, before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. Rosas faces a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of up to $250,000. 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 Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting this case.