Santa Ana, California - A Santa Ana man was arrested Thursday morning on federal charges of intentionally aiming a laser pointer at a law enforcement helicopter.
Mario Deleon Lopez, 35, was taken into custody without incident by special agents with the FBI, and he is expected to be arraigned in United States District Court in Santa Ana.
Lopez was named in an indictment returned on February 24 by a federal grand jury. The indictment alleges one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, a felony offense that carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison.
On the evening of November 14, 2015, tactical flight deputies with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department were patrolling over Santa Ana when their helicopter was struck with the beam of a laser, according to investigators. The pilots reported that their aircraft was struck multiple times with a green laser that illuminated the helicopter’s cockpit.
Following the alleged laser attacks, the deputies, along with the Santa Ana Police Department, successfully tracked the source of the laser to a suspect located in the backyard of a residence in Santa Ana. Police on the ground responded to the residence and took Lopez into custody on state charges of pointing a laser at an aircraft. Lopez subsequently posted bail and was released from local custody while the federal investigation continued and culminated with the filing of the indictment.
“The conduct charged in this indictment placed both the Sheriff’s Deputies and innocent bystanders on the ground in danger,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Had the pilot lost control of the helicopter, lives could have been lost. Consequently, we take these cases very seriously and will continue to prosecute those who commit this crime.”
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
This investigation into Lopez was conducted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Ana Police Department and the FBI.
Reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years as laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. In addition, technology has improved the effectiveness of laser devices, with a resulting increase in the potential safety hazards for pilots operating aircraft, as well as their passengers and crew. Such safety hazards include temporary distraction and impaired vision, which is particularly dangerous during the critical takeoff and landing phases of flight. California consistently leads the nation in reports of laser attacks.