Man Pleads Guilty to pointing a Laser at Aircraft Near Bob Hope Airport

Bob Hope Airport Police Cruiser. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

A North Hollywood man pleaded guilty Monday to one count of pointing the beam of a laser at an aircraft, announced André Birotte, Jr., the United States Attorney in Los Angeles, and Bill Lewis, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

Adam Gardenhire, 19, pleaded guilty to one count of a federal indictment that charged him with pointing the beam of a laser at aircraft in the special maritime jurisdiction of the United States. Gardenhire was arrested in April 2012 after being named in a two-count indictment filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles that alleged he pointed the beam of a laser at a private plane and a police helicopter.

The federal statute used to charge Gardenhire is part of legislation signed into law in 2012 by President Obama that makes it a federal crime to deliberately point a laser at an aircraft. The indictment marked the second time a violation of the new statute had been charged in the United States.

According to the statement of facts outlined in the plea agreement, Gardenhire deliberately aimed a commercial-grade green laser at multiple aircraft on the evening of March 29, 2012. The laser attack was initially reported by a pilot operating a privately owned Cessna Citation as the pilot was preparing to land at Burbank Airport. The laser struck the pilot of the airplane in the eye multiple times and caused him to suffer vision impairment that continued through the following day. Later that evening, the beam of Gardenhire’s laser struck a police helicopter multiple times. The helicopter was operated by a pilot with the Pasadena Police Department who was responding to the report of the laser attack on the Cessna. The helicopter pilot was wearing protective gear and therefore did not suffer eye damage or vision impairment as a result of the laser.

Air and ground investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Burbank Police Department, the Pasadena Police Department, and the Burbank Airport Police Department identified Gardenhire as a suspect later that evening.

Gardenhire faces a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced. Gardenhire is currently scheduled to be sentenced on January 28, 2013.

This investigation was conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department, the Pasadena Police Department, the Burbank Police Department, the Burbank Airport Police Department, and the Federal Aviation Administration, and the FBI.

Gardenhire is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California.

Reports of laser attacks have increased dramatically in recent years as laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. Technology has advanced the effectiveness of laser devices and has increased potential safety hazards for pilots operating aircraft, as well as their passengers and crew. Hazards to pilots include temporary distraction and impaired vision, which is particularly dangerous during the critical takeoff or landing phase of flight. In addition, pilots have reported the need to abort landings or relinquish control of the aircraft to another pilot as a result of laser attacks. California consistently leads the nation in reports of laser attacks. Over 3,500 laser attacks were reported in 2011.

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