Austin Man Arrested and Charged in Alleged Laser Strike Incident
In Austin today, FBI agents arrested 25–year-old Gabriel Soza Ruedas, Jr. for allegedly pointing a laser at an aircraft flying overhead announced United States Attorney Robert Pitman and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division.
In February 2012, President Barrack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and added a new provision that makes it a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. Yesterday, federal authorities filed a criminal complaint charging Ruedas with violating that provision (Title 18 United States Code Section 39A- Aiming a Laser Pointer at an Aircraft). The complaint alleges that on February 15, 2014, Ruedas knowingly aimed the beam of a laser pointer multiple times at an Austin Police Department helicopter that was on approach to land at Austin Bergstrom International Airport.
“Laser strikes can pose serious risks to flight crews, passengers, and even individuals on the ground. They are a serious public safety hazard and will be treated as such by law enforcement officials,” stated United States Attorney Robert Pitman.
Upon conviction, the defendant faces up to five years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.
“Shining a laser at aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot, which could result in the loss of aircraft control and human life. This case should serve as a warning to others who engage in this dangerous criminal activity. The FBI will continue to investigate and pursue prosecution of offenders who threaten aviation safety,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs.
This indictment resulted from an investigation conducted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, together with the Austin Police Department and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Gregg Sofer is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
An indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Reported incidents of laser strikes are on the rise. Since the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began tracking laser strikes in 2005, statistics reflect a more than 1,100 percent increase in the deliberate targeting of aircraft by people with handheld lasers. In 2013, there was a total of 3,960 laser strikes reported—an average of almost 11 incidents per day.
Earlier this year, the FBI announced the inception of the Laser Threat Awareness Campaign, a nationwide effort led by the FBI in collaboration with the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) and the FAA to raise awareness of aircraft laser illumination threats. If you have information about a lasing incident, contact the San Antonio Division of the FBI at 210-225-6741. If you see someone pointing a laser at an aircraft, call the nearest local law enforcement agency immediately by dialing 911. Tips can also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov.