Friday, October 7, 2011
“You're getting ready to land--you're getting ready to go through a number of steps configuring the airplane to touchdown. Not being able to see is a big problem,” says Captain James Webb, commander of Naval Air Station Oceana.
Within the last 18 months, the Navy says they've seen an increase in the number of "laser" sightings.
Captain Webb says it's likely the culprits behind the laser pointers are people standing on the balconies of the hotels at the oceanfront.
Though the laser sightings seem random and non-malicious, he says each time it happens, it puts the pilot's life in jeopardy.
NewsChannel 3 has also learned that there is no federal or state law that protects military planes from lasers.
To protect his pilots, Captain Webb contacted Virginia Beach's city council, asking them to take action and bring this issue to the general assembly.
Captain Webb says that this change could save someone’s life.
Friday, November 26, 2010
David H. Hopwood, 35, of the 7000 block of Bristol Place, Sykesville, Md., is charged with reckless endangerment, attempted second degree assault on a law enforcement officer, and prohibited use of a laser pointer.
At about 10 p.m. yesterday, State Police Pilot Marcus Alborghini and flight paramedic Trooper First Class Gregg Lantz, were flying in Trooper 3, a State Police helicopter based in Frederick. The crew was returning from a medevac flight to Baltimore.
According to police, the helicopter was flying over the Sykesville area when it was struck by a green laser flash. Knowing the potential dangers for a flight crew, the pilot and flight paramedic took immediate precautions as they worked to locate the source of the laser. The crew contacted the Westminster Barrack and troopers responded to the area, as did an officer from the Sykesville Police Department.
While in the area, the helicopter was struck at least four more times by the laser. The crew of Trooper 3 located the residence the laser was being emitted from and used the helicopter spotlight to light the area. Trooper 3 landed near Obrecht Road and TFC Lantz was transported to the residence that had been identified.
Troopers contacted Hopwood at the residence. He was arrested without further incident.
Police say shining lasers at aircraft can have dangerous and even deadly consequences. A direct laser strike in the cockpit can cause temporary blindness and disorientation for the flight crew.
When the strike occurred last night, TFC Lantz was wearing night vision goggles, which significantly increase any light source and, when struck by a laser, can blind the person wearing the goggles, as well as seriously damage the night vision equipment.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Inside the cockpit of Baltimore County's Air 1, hovering over the houses on Maryln Avenue, pilot Hobart Wolf was temporarily "flash-blinded" by the light and was diverted from helping fellow county officers chasing a suspect.
Police say helicopters and other aircraft are increasingly being targeted by laser pointers commonly used in lecture halls. It has been a problem for years across the country, and Maryland authorities say it is now growing throughout the state, particularly in Ocean City, where pointers are sold as cheap souvenirs on the Boardwalk.
Red lasers were once ubiquitous, but the newer green-beam variety is far more powerful and is particularly disruptive because its light deflects off aircraft windshields and helmet guards, and can "envelope the cockpits" with blinding light, police said.
Authorities from several Maryland police agencies called attention to the problem on Wednesday, asking people to put down their lasers, some of which can project beams more than two miles.
"It's not a game," said Maryland State Police Lt. Walter A. Kerr, who has spent 21 years with the aviation unit and flown to more than 4,000 trauma scenes. "It's potentially lethal. Our flight crews are defenseless." Police choppers are vulnerable because they fly low — 500 to 1,500 feet above the ground — and tend to circle. Baltimore City Police Flight Officer Arnie Russo said Foxtrot crews in the city get hit with laser beams two to three times a week.
"It was a very intense light," he said. The last time he was targeted, "it diverted my attention and blurred my vision, and later I had a massive headache. … Try driving on the highway at 75 mph on a holiday weekend and lose your vision for 30 seconds. That's what it feels like. And we can't pull over."
Maryland prohibits the use of laser pointers "to illuminate another [person] in a public place in a manner that harasses or endangers." The misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine. But authorities more typically charge under the reckless endangerment statute because they're unsure whether the laser law can be applied to aircraft.
Arrests are rare, but two occurred just last month.
When Brydge flashed his light into the sky shortly before midnight on Aug. 25 night, Wolf was able to circle back to where the laser beam had originated and light up the porch with a spotlight. Officers in patrol cars sped to the house, burst inside and put Brydge in handcuffs.
He was charged with reckless endangerment and assault, and his case is pending. In a telephone interview, the young man admitted he was shining his light in the air but denied he was purposely trying to distract the police helicopter pilot. "I was being dumb," Brydge said. "I didn't think it was going to reach. Obviously it did and the cops came. … I think it was a little blown out of proportion, but I know I shouldn't have done it. … As soon as that helicopter swung back around toward me, I knew I had done something wrong."
Two days earlier, also in Essex, county police arrested another man and charged him with pointing a laser at the same two helicopter officers. They were able to turn their spotlight and see the suspect in an alley, and officers on the ground arrested Matthew R. Danner, 23, of Arncliffe Road, and charged him with reckless endangerment. His case too is pending.
In Maryland, the laser pointers are popular in Ocean City, where boardwalk shops sell them for as little as $10.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the industry, says that even the least powerful laser pointers "can be dangerous" and can "cause temporary visual effects such as flash blinding."
Laser pointers typically used in lecture halls generate about 5 milliwatts of power. The FDA says that anything more powerful "cannot legally be promoted as laser pointers" and must carry sufficient warnings.
Powerful laser pointers do have legitimate uses. Construction workers use them for leveling, some police officers have them on guns to help them aim and astronomers use them to point out planets and star systems in the sky. They like the more powerful green because, unlike other colors, green maintains a visible beam through the sky.
The manager of a police and military laser pointer supply store, Oregon-based Z-Bolt, said kids frequently call and e-mail his company "looking for lasers that can slice cheese and do other things." John Mueller said overseas web sites proliferate the Internet "bragging that their lasers can pop balloons or light matches."
"To me, it's no different than selling illegal firearms," Mueller said, adding that the high-powered laser pointers are used in university labs and in war zones by troops to send warning signals to drivers to avoid military checkpoints or to enforce curfews.
There are dozens of examples of pilots blinded by lasers from Maryland and around the country. Five years ago, Anne Arundel County police charged a man with blinding one of its pilots on New Year's Eve in Pasadena. At the time, federal authorities investigated but decided that the incident was not related to terrorism.
Maryland State Police say one of their MedEvac helicopters was hit by a laser in July while trying to land in Ocean City to pick up a trauma patient and again in August flying over Berlin on the Eastern Shore. Most recently state police said a pilot was hit four times by a green laser beam on Sept. 2 west of Mount Airy.
Incidents are reported to the Federal Aviation Administration, and Congress is considering new laws to make shining laser beams at aircraft a federal offense. Federal authorities can use the Patriot Act, which makes it a crime to interfere with the country's transportation systems.
One man charged under the Patriot Act in New Jersey for shining a laser at a commuter aircraft in 2004 had his charges reduced to lying to a federal agent. And a man charged with disorienting a pilot of a LifeFlight helicopter in Cleveland was sentenced to three years in prison.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
When pointed at an aircraft in flight, the laser pointers can cause a flash of light in the cockpit that blinds the flight crew.
Recently, a Maryland State Police helicopter crew was targeted with a laser pointer while trying to land in Ocean City to pick up a trauma patient, state police said in a news release. Baltimore County Police recently charged an individual with reckless endangerment for ‘lasering’ their helicopter while in flight.
At an event at 10 a.m. today at the State Police Aviation Command in Middle River, Md., helicopter crews will discuss the danger created when flight crews are temporarily blinded by laser flashes. Helicopters from area law enforcement and a commercial provider will be on display. A demonstration will also be conducted using a helicopter simulator.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
"It really shouldn't be in the hands of children," said Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. "They really don't know what they're dealing with. It's not a toy ... We believe this will give us the tools we need to try to reduce the incidents."
DiPino told the council at Tuesday's work session that the Coast Guard and pilots of a Maryland State Police medevac helicopter already have complained that laser pointers have interfered with their operation.
Medevac pilots warned that they wouldn't attempt future landings in Ocean City if laser beams continued to be a threat, DiPino added.
State Police spokesman Greg Shipley confirmed that such an incident occurred over the weekend.
It's already a misdemeanor in Ocean City, and under state law, to shine any laser pointer on another person.
However, as the popularity of green-colored laser pointers has skyrocketed this summer, resort officials planned to tighten that law by banning their use on gathering spots like balconies, porches or patios.
Now, before the council gets a chance to make those changes, further restrictions on laser pointer abuse will be implemented. Council President Joe Mitrecic said the updated law will be passed Monday as emergency legislation.
The newly amended ordinance would make it illegal to shine lasers not just on people, but on any sort of vehicle, including cars, bikes, scooters, buses, trams, motorcycles, Segways or wheelchairs.
Proposed changes also include outlawing sales and possession of laser pointers to minors, and mandating that laser pointer vendors post conspicuous signs about the town's law while providing buyers with a written copy of the law. Violations would be punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
Joey Kroart, of Boardwalk store Ocean Gallery, said he's queried customers as to whether they were cautioned by clerks when buying their laser pointers.
"We have yet to speak with someone who said that they were," he said. "In fact, one woman reacted somewhat angrily, remarking that 'they told us that that the red ones were dangerous, but that these were safe!'"
Shining laser pointers on boats or aircraft also would be punishable, according to the law.
More than 30,000 laser pointers have been sold in Ocean City this year by 23 stores, according to research by police, where they they sell for $30 to $50 each. Their reach extends into West Ocean City, where a Sunsations megastore advertises it stocks them on an outdoor electronic billboard to anyone coming in on Route 50.
Green laser pointers, more powerful than red ones popular a decade ago, shine not just a dot at a distance, but send a long green beam across the darkness.
"I was down there this weekend on the Boardwalk, and I tell you, it's like Star Wars," said Councilman Doug Cymek.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who also owns a Boardwalk store, said a young boy hit her in the eye with a beam from a green laser pointer that he had carried inside her store last Saturday, and she says she’s been struggling to see things clearly since.
“It’s like trying to look through a piece of cellophane,” said Pillas on Wednesday. “Things have been blurry, almost like there’s a haze around everything. My doctor said it will be like that on and off for several months.”
Pillas described the youth armed with a laser pointer as a “10-12 year old boy” who had come into her store with his mother and grandmother. She said she saw the green light flickering near her on the wall by the cash register, and when she turned around again, it hit her square in the eyes.
“It was obvious that he did it on purpose, and I asked the folks to leave the store after they claimed it was an accident,” said Pillas. “I felt the impact of the light on my eyes, and I haven’t been able to see properly since, accident or not. Kids today aren’t being taught to do the right thing, and life is just a game to them. They need to be respectful of other people’s personal space.”
Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officials said this week that there has been a widespread proliferation of green laser pointers being sold and carried on the Boardwalk that has potentially surpassed the proliferation of red laser pointers back in 1998, which prompted the Mayor and City Council to pass an emergency ordinance that would make it unlawful to harass or even point a laser pointer at another person.
As a result of the heightened interest and rise in complaints, the OCPD issued a press release this week reiterating the ramifications if one is found guilty of harassment with a laser pointer as per Maryland State Law.
“Maryland state law restricts individuals from knowingly using a laser pointer to illuminate another in a public place in a matter that harasses or endangers another. The Ocean City Police Department is continuing to enforce laser pointer violations. If a person is found to be using a laser pointer in a harassing manner, they are potentially subject to a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to 30 days or both,” the release said.The released also touched on the dangers associated with the laser pointers.
“The Ocean City Police Department warns citizens of the danger that can accompany laser pointers. Hazards are most likely to affect the eye, including flash blindness, damage to the retina and an after image or glare. The Ocean City Police Department reminds citizens laser pointers are not toys and should be used with adequate care and supervision,” the release said.
While in another capacity with the department, Police Chief Bernadette DiPino testified in Annapolis in 1999 about the merits of creating legislation that would instill penalties for misuse of laser pointers, and her testimony was credited as one of the deciding factors in the bill being passed into law.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres advised the council that the local and state law were potentially as far as they could go regarding this summer’s rise in laser pointer related incidents, noting that the legal usages of the devices were enough to stop a total ban in the resort.
“These laser pointers are used in boardrooms and offices all over the country, and because there is a legal use for them, we can’t just ban the sale of them outright in Ocean City,” said Ayres.
Pillas urged the public to come forward and speak out if they fall victim to harassment by a laser pointer.
“At this point, we need more people to complain, and more people to come forward,” said Pillas. “That, and we need more research done as to how damaging these lasers can be on a person’s eyes. All I can do is try to bring this issue to the forefront and hope that the six other people on the council will support me on this.”
Pillas said that she has gone as far to ban all laser pointers from being brought into her Boardwalk store, and she says that she hopes that other stores on the Boardwalk will follow suit.
“I wish that merchants would just stop carrying them,” she said, “but they are everywhere now, and it’s getting out of control. It’s one thing to have freedoms, but it’s another thing entirely not to take responsibility for those freedoms.”
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Resort officials and police, however, say the green laser pointers, more powerful than their red-hued predecessors, are becoming a public safety problem.
"This year, it is out of control," said Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. "The Boardwalk is just inundated with these green lasers."
She said citizens are complaining that beams are being shone in their faces. One family complained their child had a seizure after getting zapped in the eyes.
People are also shining the beams on the chests and private parts of passers-by, which in turn starts fights "because the boyfriend would get mad," DiPino said.
Not to mention how the horses of the police department's mounted unit are skittish to cross any laser's beam of light, which they see as a solid object.
The issue is not new to the resort. In July 1998, in an emergency measure, the Ocean City Council banned any harassing or annoying shining of laser pointers on a person.
Less than a year later, when state lawmakers were on their way to passing an identical ban, DiPino testified in Annapolis by shining, side-by-side, a regular laser pointer on the wall alongside a handgun sight."I said, 'Can you tell the difference?' That was enough," recalled DiPino, who keeps in her office the pen used to sign that bill into law.
Recorded abuse of laser pointers has increased with their availability in the last several years, according to a 2001 Federal Aviation Administration report. It also says lasers reportedly have been shone on athletes during sporting events, mistaken for weapon sights, and blinded pilots in cockpits of planes and helicopters.
"The misuse of laser pointers involving exposure greater than 10 feet is not likely to cause permanent eye injury," the report said. "However, at very close range, the light energy that laser pointers can deliver into the eye may be more damaging than staring directly at the sun."
Richard Drake, 29, of Ocean City, can attest to that. Last summer, he sustained serious damage to his left eye after having a red laser shone purposefully in the face. Now he sees everything with a pinkish hue. His eye doctor said it will gradually go away. Drake already wears glasses and has a condition that makes his eyes extra-sensitive to light.
He said he's been traumatized by the experience, doesn't like walking on the Boardwalk at night anymore, and wants laser pointers banned from resort retailers.
"What is the purpose of them selling these at stores -- so they can shine them in people's faces?" he said. "Because that's the only reason I can think of. This is very personal to me. As long as the stores are selling it, it's going to be a problem."
Said DiPino: "These really shouldn't be in the hands of young people; they don't know what they're doing. It's not a flashlight. These do have the potential to cause lasting physical damage."
From May through mid-July, resort police reported 15 incidents of people breaking the laser pointer law, with seven arrests.
DiPino herself led the way on one such arrest. On June 12, she spotted a green laser zipping across the chest of a person she'd stopped for drinking in public on the Boardwalk.
She stood back to find its source. She saw it coming from inside a store, Tres Place, where clerk Elisabeth Mesfin was shining it onto passers-by. DiPino had Mesfin arrested and charged with prohibited use of a laser.
Guy Ayres, the resort's attorney, said laser pointers, while problematic, still have a lawful and legitimate use as a presentation tool.
"You can use a hammer to beat somebody over the head and kill them. Should we outlaw hammers?" he said.
However, the Town Council made plans at its July 19 meeting to mandate that any shop selling laser pointers clearly posts the law, and give customers a verbal reminder of it.
At the Boardwalk shop T-Shirt Factory, clerk Slavena Koleva Harrell said before laser pointers became an epidemic, the most popular fad this summer was Silly Bandz. Once her shop started stocking laser pointers, however, they were already behind the curve and quickly sold out of their limited supply.
She said it doesn't matter that the law prohibits shining lights on other people, and expects people will continue to abuse them.
"You cannot stop it," Hareell said. "Everything is very popular for a couple of weeks, then they gonna shut it down."
DiPino said by the time state lawmakers enacted their law in 1999, laser pointers had already fallen off the map. They weren't cool anymore.
"That next season, they just went away," she said.