A 48-year-old Santa Ana man was sentenced Monday to the maximum of five years in prison for intentionally aiming a laser at an Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopter pilot.
Eric Suarez admitted that on April 13, 2020, he was sitting alone in his parked car when he “intentionally pointed a high-intensity green laser beam” at the helicopter, striking the cockpit at least four times with the beam. The beam blinded the pilot and tactical flight officer for several seconds, impacting their ability to see the ground and detect hazards, according to his plea agreement.
Shortly before law enforcement stopped Suarez’s car, the defendant threw his laser pointer out of the window, but officers quickly located the device.
More than five years earlier, in 2015, Suarez was convicted in Orange County Superior Court of unlawful discharge of a laser at an occupied aircraft, prosecutors wrote in papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
And less than a month before he aimed his laser at the sheriff’s helicopter, law enforcement responded to a report of a green laser beam that shown from his backyard and struck a helicopter eight times. That night, an officer warned Suarez that pointing a laser beam at an aircraft could be “disastrous” because it could blind the pilot and cause the aircraft to crash, the plea agreement states.
Suarez pleaded guilty in November 2021 to one federal count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.