September 28, 2015

Laser Attack on Sheriff’s Helicopter Nets Prison Term for Bakersfield Man

FRESNO, CA— Barry Lee Bowser Jr., 52, of Bakersfield, was sentenced today to 21 months in prison for shining a powerful green laser at the pilot of a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

In June, a federal jury found Bowser guilty of aiming the beam of a laser at Air-1, a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter that was providing support to ground units responding to a man armed with a gun. At trial, the evidence established that the mission was diverted when the pilot of Air-1 was struck by direct hits from a powerful green laser that illuminated the cockpit and tracked the aircraft near the approach path to Meadows Field Airport. The laser strikes caused the pilot to experience flash blindness, eye discomfort, and pain that lasted several hours.

In imposing sentence, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill found that Bowser had obstructed justice before trial by concealing the laser and providing false statements to law enforcement and at trial through his false testimony about the offense.

The federal statute used to charge Bowser is part of legislation signed into law in 2012 by President Obama that makes it a federal crime to knowingly aim the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft or its flight path. 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 laser incidents, with Bakersfield and Fresno leading in the number of reported incidents. Lasers can cause visual interference even at great distances and can completely incapacitate pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destination. Laser strikes pose a serious threat to air safety, endangering crew members, passengers and people on the ground.

The case against Bowser was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Bayleigh Pettigrew prosecuted the case.