We all have seen people using laser strikes to play an occasional joke on unwitting pedestrians or to momentarily distract a pet in order to divert their attention away from some possibly mischievous behavior, but the recent actions of a man in California went a bit too far.
Michael Vincent Alvarez was arrested following a dramatic high-speed chase with police, who had been pursuing Alvarez on suspicions of him shining a laser strike into the eyes of a pilot flying a police helicopter.
The incident took place just after midnight on the night of October 22nd, according to documents corroborating the charges, and Alvarez’s laser reportedly made contact with the eyes of the pilot three times, disorienting him and nearly causing a crash. Thankfully however, the pilot was able to stay in control of the helicopter. The pilot had been in the middle of assisting police with a domestic violence call at the time.
What makes this case different is that normally incidents involving laser strikes are difficult to prove, but this time there were several witnesses—the passengers in Alvarez’ car who witnessed his actions, one of whom overheard him justifying his actions with the reasoning that he simply “thought it would be funny.” In the end, the light source proved easy to track for the pilot, who radioed police officers on the ground to inform them. This swift coordination led to his quick apprehension.
The Unseen Dangers of Laser Strikes
Far from being just an annoyance, the light from a laser could distract the pilot long enough to cause a crash, or in other scenarios, the heat energy from the light is enough to burn the retina and cause permanent damage. The lights can do damage from a surprisingly far distance, sometimes when pilots are as much as 152 meters high.
The number of laser striker cases reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from pilots in the last 5 years has increased at such an alarming rate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened a private investigation a few years ago.
Stephen Woolery, one of the FBI agents working on these cases, explains the potentially fatal consequences that come with using laser flashes irresponsibly:
"When a laser light flashes across the cockpit, it's about 25% brighter than a flashlight flashing in your face. So what that does is, that can cause temporary incapacitation."
Though we may disagree about whether the actions of Alvarez were intended to inflict harm, or more importantly, whether the punishment he received was truly warranted, one thing is certain: the incident highlights the fact that along with the influx of technology in our daily lives, we must also apply an equal amount of responsible behavior in using this technology. Due to the seriousness of the crime, Alvarez has been formally indicted for the crime and now faces charges that could carry a prison sentence up to 5 years, and this charge was only for the laser strike action.