Man busted for pointing laser at helicopter

August 11, 2009 7:17:22 PM PDT
A Richmond man is out on bail, after being arrested for shining a laser three times at a Contra Costa County Sheriff's helicopter on Sunday night. Sheriffs say the incident could've caused catastrophic results.

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It started with a large fight in a Richmond park, just after 9:00 p.m. on Saturday night.

Starr 1, the Contra Costa sheriff's helicopter was on patrol in the area and went to help Richmond police find those involved in the fight.

That's when someone on the ground aimed a laser in Starr's cockpit.

"The laser in question was green in color and it was actually so bright that it temporarily blinded the pilot. Though he was able to maintain control of the helicopter, he's still feeling the effects to this day," said Air Support Commander Lieutenant William Duke.

The suspect aimed the powerful green laser twice more at Starr 1.

Despite multiple hits from the laser, the helicopter pilot was able to maintain control, this time. But the result could've been much different.

"This is more than just a nuisance. Discharging a laser at an aircraft is a serious threat to public safety," said Lt. Duke.

In this case, the pilot then took matters into his own hands, using the chopper's Flir infrared camera to track down the man with the laser on the ground.

It's the same technology shown in Sheriff's Department video of a past incident.

The Flir is a heat-seeking device, which means a warm body shows up very clearly even at night.

On Sunday, Starr 1's Flir located the laser suspect at an intersection just a short distance from the park. Now, 41-year-old Mario Gonzalez of Richmond faces felony charges that could send him to prison for up to three years.

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