LOS ANGELES (CNS) - An Inland Empire man pleaded guilty today in Los Angeles to a federal charge of aiming a laser beam at an Ontario Police Department helicopter.
Asarel Felix Lombera, 28, entered his plea to the felony offense and was ordered to return to Los Angeles federal court on May 30 for sentencing.
When Lombera was charged in December, prosecutors also filed a plea agreement in which the Fontana resident admitted that he pointed a laser at the police helicopter on the evening of Feb. 21, 2015.
Tactical flight officers were conducting patrol near John Galvin Park, just south of Interstate 10 in Ontario, when Lombera aimed his $20 green laser pointer at the OPD helicopter for roughly 15 seconds, tracking the chopper with the laser and making circles with the beam.
When the laser beam struck the helicopter, it created a prism effect in the cockpit of the helicopter, causing a member of the flight crew to become momentarily dazed and creating a dangerous flight situation, according to court papers.
In his plea agreement, Lombera admitted that he knew that it was dangerous and distracting to shoot the laser at the helicopter.
``As lasers and drones become more affordable and available, members of the public must be extremely conscious of the dangers these technologies pose to aircraft and law enforcement,'' U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said. ``In this case, the defendant targeted a helicopter in flight, endangering the flight crew and, potentially, civilians on the ground.''
Lombera faces up to five years in federal prison and is also subject to potential civil penalties by the Federal Aviation Administration, prosecutors said.
``Laser beams are not toys and pointing one at a plane or helicopter in the air is not mischief, but a serious federal crime,'' said Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office.
``The clear skies in southern California generate a significant amount of aircraft flying at any given time and, unfortunately, more illegal laser strikes,'' she said. ``The Ontario Police Department should be commended for acting quickly after their pilot was temporarily disabled by the laser beam, and for identifying the perpetrator on the ground.''
Reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years, with 1,238 laser strikes reported in California last year, according to the FAA.