- Adam Gardenhire, 19, gets two and a half years in federal prison
- He admitted last year that he pointed laser at aircraft in Burbank, California
- His attorney writes that Gardenhire had no idea of hazards the laser could pose
- U.S. Attorney's Office said the judge sent message with the sentence
A judge in California has sent a strong message to anyone who thinks that pointing lasers at aircraft is just harmless fun 'n' games.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson sentenced a 19-year-old man on Monday to 30 months in federal prison for shining a laser pointer at a plane and police helicopter, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the case.
Adam Gardenhire deliberately pointed the commercial grade green laser at a private Cessna Citation that was landing at the Burbank Bob Hope Airport in California on March 29, 2012.
Gardenhire, of North Hollywood, California, was arrested and pleaded guilty in the incident as part of an agreement with prosecutors in October.
The pilot of the corporate jet was hit in the eye multiple times and had vision problems through the next day, court documents say.
Later, a helicopter sent by the Pasadena Police Department to investigate the incident also was again hit by a laser, but the pilot had protective equipment and was not injured.
In court documents, his attorney argued he did not intend to put anyone at risk.
"Gardenhire had no idea that the deceptively ordinary laser he had borrowed from a friend was powerful enough to be seen by, much less distract, a pilot thousands of feet away," wrote attorney Sean Kennedy.
Gardenhire is the second person indicted under the new federal law making it a federal crime to target aircraft with lasers, according the U.S. Attorney's office.
In 2005, there were fewer than 300 incidents where planes were targeted, but that number grew by more than 12 times to nearly 3600 in 2011, according to the FAA.
"Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is not a joke," the agency's former administrator, Randy Babbitt, said in 2011 announcing a crackdown. "These lasers can temporarily blind a pilot and make it impossible to safely land the aircraft, jeopardizing the safety of the passengers and people on the ground."
The FAA attributes the massive increase in incidents to laser pointers being more widely available online, stronger power levels, and an increase in green lasers which are easier to see, as well as better reporting of the incidents by pilots.