Los Angeles News

Pasadena officer struck by laser mid-flight; Suspect arrested

Friday, May 25, 2012

Taking to the air, Pasadena police are on the hunt for trouble, but all too often they are becoming the hunted, targeted by suspects with lasers.

"You'll see it go up and then it looks like the laser will actually start hunting our aircraft and tracking them where it's illuminating the cockpit and really putting the crew at risk," said Pasadena police Lt. Michael Ingram.

Thursday night, the tactile flight officer on board ended up at the hospital after taking a direct hit from a laser strike.

"We were tracked. It was an intentional act for minutes where the aircraft was lit up and it was not an accident by any means," said Ingram.

Investigators say 23-year-old Rafael Juarez took aim with a green laser as the crew was flying over San Gabriel around 9:30 p.m.

Officers on the ground were able to track him and take him into custody. The helicopter landed safely at the police department's heliport.

Ingram was taken to the hospital where he was treated and released. It did not appear he suffered any permanent damage.

The number of laser strikes has skyrocketed nationwide, now averaging around 3700 a year. Since January the Pasadena police department has had nine reported laser strikes.

The blast of light in the cockpit can cause temporary blindness and permanent damage, not mention the possibility of a horrific crash.

"Those handheld lasers that you buy at the store and online are serious and more powerful than ever before, and when they're used inappropriately they're a public hazard," said Ingram.

When Juarez was arrested, officers found drugs on him - possibly cocaine. He was booked at the San Gabriel City Jail for discharging a laser at an aircraft and possession of a controlled substance.

Laser strike violations are prosecuted at the state and federal levels. The Federal Aviation Administration seeks civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each occurrence.

Juarez faces two felony charges and could face federal charges as the FBI is now investigating. The federal government is also cracking down on the strikes.

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