Fresno, California - Johnny Alexander Quenga, 28, of Fresno, entered a guilty plea to aiming the beam of a laser pointer at Air 1, a Fresno Police helicopter, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
In pleading guilty, Quenga acknowledged that he repeatedly struck Air 1 with a powerful green laser attached to an airsoft rifle. As a result, the airmen experienced visual interference, flash blindness, after-imaging, a persistent headache lasting several hours, and dizziness. Two Fresno Police officers, who were responding to calls to assist in the investigation of the laser incident, were also seriously hurt when their patrol vehicle was broadsided at a busy intersection in northeast Fresno.
Quenga is scheduled for sentencing before Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii on January 19, 2016. He faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. At his change of plea hearing, Quenga was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for failing to comply with conditions of his pretrial release.
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 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 incidents, with the majority in Bakersfield, Fresno, and Modesto. Lasers can completely incapacitate pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destination, endangering their crew members, passengers and people on the ground.
The case against Quenga was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.