Man pleads guilty to laser strikes on helicopter

Posted at 4:26 PM, Jan 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-11 19:26:24-05

Pablo Cesar Sahagun, 26, of Bakersfield, pleaded guilty today to aiming the beam of a laser pointer at a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to the guilty plea, on February 26, 2015, Sahagun repeatedly struck and tracked a Kern County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, Air-1, with the beam of a green laser pointer. According to court documents, the laser pointer was key activated and labeled as a Laser 301, a device that purports to emit a one-watt laser beam, which is 2,000 times more powerful than what is legally permissible for a laser pointer.

Reports of laser attacks on aircraft have increased dramatically in recent years as powerful laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. From 2011 to 2015, there have been over 23,000 laser illumination incidents in the United States reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In 2015, in the Eastern District of California, which encompasses 34 counties in the eastern portion of California, there were 213 reported laser incidents. Lasers can completely incapacitate pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destinations, endangering their crew members, passengers and people on the ground.

Sahagun is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on April 4, 2016. Sahagun faces a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of up to $250,000. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

The case against Sahagun was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.

If you have information about a lasing incident, or see someone pointing a laser at an aircraft, call your local FBI field office or dial 911.