Yet another man from Central California has been sentenced to jail time for firing a laser at a California Highway Patrol (CHP) aircraft. On Monday, Andrew Zarate, of Fresno, was given one year in prison for firing a green laser at Air 43, a CHP plane.
It may seem like a silly thing, but laser strikes against planes, helicopters, and other aerial vehicles have become an increasing epidemic nationwide. Since the FBI began keeping track in 2005, there have been more than 17,000 laser strikes—one-fifth (3,960) in 2013 alone. During the first three months of 2014, the FBI reported an average of 9.5 incidents daily.
While no serious injuries or deaths have occurred, pilots say that being struck by a laser can be a terrifying experience that may cause temporary blindness.
According to a statement provided by federal prosecutors, Air 43 was struck 50 times, and “the pilot suffered temporary blindness.” The plane was also “forced to break away from a burglary in progress at a Fresno middle school. The CHP pilot reported that he gets struck by lasers almost every night, and this incident was ‘the worst.’”
This marks the 11th such sentence coming from the Eastern District of California centered in Fresno County since 2007. Zarate’s co-defendant, David Walter Fee, also of Fresno, was ordered in September 2014 to serve 18 months in prison.
Federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of California reported more than 82 laser strikes in 2013—more than six laser illumination incidents per month. This year, there have been an average of 11.5 reported laser incidents per month in this district, with Fresno reporting the most of any city in the region.