A previously convicted 47-year-old Santa Ana man pleaded guilty Monday to 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.
Lasers are dangerous to point at aircraft because they can blind the pilot and cause a crash.
Shortly before law enforcement stopped Suarez’s car, the defendant threw his laser pointer out of the window, but officers quickly located the device, according to papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
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.
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 shone from his backyard and struck a helicopter eight times.
That night, an officer warned Suarez that pointing a laser beam at an aircraft would be “disastrous” because it could blind the pilot and cause the aircraft to crash, prosecutors said.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson set a March 7 sentencing hearing, at which time Suarez will face up to five years in federal prison, prosecutors said.