Fresno, California - Michael Vincent Alvarez, 32, of Fresno, was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison for striking Air-1, a Fresno Police Department helicopter, with a powerful green laser beam, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
According to court documents, on October 22, 2017, Alvarez struck a Fresno Police helicopter several times with a powerful green laser. The laser caused visual interference of the tactical flight officer and disrupted an air support response to a domestic violence call. Alvarez was driving a vehicle on Highway 99 when he pointed the laser at the helicopter and tracked and struck it. When ground units were called to apprehend Alvarez, he drove through the streets of Fresno at a high rate of speed, eluding officers for several miles until he crashed into the center divider at First Street and Floradora Avenue. Following the crash, Alvarez ran into a residential area, jumping several fences until he was arrested in a backyard. A green laser pointer that officers found inside the driver side door pocket of Alvarez’s vehicle had a danger warning on it.
In 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported 6,771 laser strikes of aircraft or 18.55 per day nationwide. In the Eastern District of California, which encompasses 34 counties in the eastern portion of California, there were over 170 laser strikes reported. Law enforcement and emergency transport helicopters are particularly vulnerable, since they typically fly at lower altitudes. Their convex-shaped windows also cause greater refraction and visual interference when the beam of a laser strikes.
This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar prosecuted the case.