Austin Man Sentenced to Two Years in Federal Prison for Laser Strike Incident
In Austin today, 25-year-old Gabriel Soza Ruedas, Jr., was sentenced to two years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release for 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.
“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.
On July 7, 2014, Ruedas pleaded guilty to one count of pointing a laser at an aircraft—a federal violation under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
According to court records, on February 15, 2014, Ruedas admittedly aimed the beam of a laser pointer at a helicopter flying overhead. That aircraft happened to be an Austin Police Department helicopter (Air1) on approach to land at Austin Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA). All of this occurred after Air1 had been cleared by air traffic control to land. Air1 delayed its landing to investigate the source of the laser. Austin Air Traffic Control issued a general warning to all pilots in the area where the laser incident occurred, which was the flight path of arriving aircraft on short final approach to ABIA.
The laser Ruedas used was strong enough to reflect inside the cockpit of Air1 causing the pilot to turn his head and avert his eyes from the laser, distracting him from normal flight operations.
The crew of Air1 communicated to ground units from the Austin Police Department (APD) information about the source of the laser strikes, enabling APD units to identify and apprehend Ruedas. Ruedas was found with the laser pointer in his sweatshirt pocket and arrested. He has since remained in federal custody.
“The sentence handed down today reinforces our message to the public: Shining a hand-held laser at an aircraft is a serious, illegal act that exposes both air crew and the public on the ground to severe risk,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs of the San Antonio Division of the FBI. “Hand-held lasers are well labeled to inform owners of their potential risk to health and safety. Ignorance or curiosity is no excuse for such reckless action, and we are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to locate and identify individuals who have total disregard for life and safety.”
This case 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 prosecuted this case on behalf of the Government.