U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California
(916) 554-2700
November 3, 2014

Fresno Man Sentenced for Laser Strikes on CHP Plane

FRESNO, CA—Andrew Zarate, 20, of Fresno, was sentenced today to one year in prison to be followed by two years of supervised release, for aiming a laser pointer at a California Highway Patrol airplane, Air 43, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to court documents, Air 43 was struck up to 50 times by a powerful green laser pointer. As a result, the pilot suffered temporary blindness and Air 43 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.”

Co-defendant David Walter Fee, 22, of Fresno, was sentenced in September to 18 months in prison.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, in 2013, there were 3,960 reported incidents nationwide of laser strikes on aircraft cockpits, or an average of 10.85 strikes per day. Airports in the Eastern District of California reported over 82 laser strikes in 2013—more than six laser illumination incidents per month. The Fresno Yosemite International Airport reported the highest number of laser illuminations followed by the airports in Bakersfield and Sacramento. This year, there have been 115 laser strikes or 11.5 reported laser incidents per month in this district, with Fresno leading in the number of reported laser incidents.

The case was the product of an investigation by the FBI’s Fresno Office, California Highway Patrol, and Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen A. Escobar and Michael G. Tierney prosecuted this case.

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