Fresno and Bakersfield Men Indicted for Laser Strikes on Law Enforcement Helicopters
FRESNO, CA—A federal grand jury returned two separate indictments Thursday, charging one defendant with a laser strike of a police helicopter in Fresno, and one with a laser strike of a sheriff’s helicopter in Bakersfield, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
Laser Strikes of Fresno PD Helicopter
Johnny Alexander Quenga, 28, of Fresno, was charged with interfering with the safe operation of Air 1, a Fresno Police Department helicopter, and aiming the beam of a green laser at the aircraft. According to court documents, on March 5, 2015, Air 1 was repeatedly struck by a powerful green laser attached to an airsoft rifle that was seized from Quenga’s residence. As a result, it is alleged the airmen experienced various vision difficulties. Quenga is scheduled for arraignment on the indictment today at 1:00 p.m.
Laser Strikes of Kern County Sheriff’s Helicopter
According to court documents, on September 12, 2014, Barry Lee Bowser Jr., 51, of Bakersfield, aimed the beam of a green laser at Air-1, a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter while it was providing support to ground units responding to a man armed with a gun. The mission was diverted when the cockpit of Air-1 was illuminated by a bright green laser. It is alleged that the illumination caused the pilot to experience vision difficulties. Bowser fled from Bakersfield following the incident last September and was recently arrested in San Luis Obispo. Bowser is scheduled for arraignment on the indictment on March 30, 2015. He was ordered detained as a flight risk.
The case against Quenga is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Fresno Police Department. The case against Bowser is the product of an investigation by the FBI, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting both cases.
Quenga faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted of interfering with the safe operation of an aircraft, and five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted of aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft. Bowser faces a prison term of five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Any sentence imposed on either defendant, however, would 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. The charges are only allegations; both defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received 3,894 reports of incidents involving laser strikes on aircraft. In the Eastern District of California, which encompasses 34 counties in the eastern portion of California, there were 150 reported incidents, with the majority in Bakersfield, Fresno, and Modesto. Lasers can completely incapacitate pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destination, endangering their crew members, passengers and people on the ground.
Thousands of laser attacks go unreported every year. If you have information about a lasing incident, or see someone pointing a laser at an aircraft, call your local FBI field office or dial 911.