WEST COVINA — A 28-year-old West Covina man was behind bars Wednesday on suspicion of making a hobby of shining a powerful green laser light at police and passenger aircraft over the course of more than a year, authorities said.
Jose Marie Gutierrez was booked on suspicion of a felony charge of discharging a laser at an aircraft, West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez said.
“The arrest came after a lengthy investigation was conducted by WCPD Detectives when several reports of laser light strikes by a green laser beam were made on police and civilian helicopters between December, 2009 and January, 2011,” the corporal said.
Aircraft targeted by the laser included El Monte, Pasadena and Pomona police, as well as Los Angeles County sheriff’s and fire department craft and commercial airliners, police said.
One helicopter reported being struck by the beam at least 15 times during one flight, Lopez said.
“This truly was a problem for us for quite a long time,” he said.
If light from a laser pointer hits a pilot in the eyes, it can cause temporary blindness that could lead to a catastrophe in the air, Lopez said.
“Plus the light can flood the interior of the cockpit,” he said. “It can actually cause you to not be able to see the instrument panel.”
Police identified Gutierrez as a possible suspect and served a search warrant at his apartment in the 200 block of Pima Street late last month, Lopez said.
Gutierrez was not home, he said, but police recovered a green laser pointer and a police radio scanner,
“The (laser) was found to have a range of 10,000 feet,” Lopez said.
The scanner, he added, was likely used by Gutierrez to keep tabs on when authorities were looking for him.
“Each time the area was checked for the source, the light beam would cease preventing detection,” Lopez said.
Police returned to Gutierrez’s apartment Tuesday and arrested him as he tried to flee out an upstairs window, officials said.
In addition to shining the laser at aircraft, Lopez said, Gutierrez was found to have two outstanding warrants for his arrest.
According to court records, Gutierrez has charges of domestic battery and giving false information to police pending against him in West Covina Superior Court.
His criminal record in Los Angeles County also includes 2007 convictions for being under the influence of drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia, as well as a 2006 conviction for domestic battery.
Gutierrez was being held in lieu of $400,000 bail and was dues for arraignment Thursday in West Covina Superior Court, according to police and sheriff’s booking records.
If convicted, he faces up to three years in state prison.
He is only the latest San Gabriel Valley-area resident to face charges after allegedly shining a green laser at aircraft, officials said.
Police reportedly arrested a 19-year-old El Monte man Feb. 17 on suspicion of shining a green laser pointer at an El Monte Police Department helicopter as it was orbiting over the scene of a car crash at Killian Street and La Madera Avenue in El Monte.
Deputies took a 24-year-old Pico Rivera man to jail in August of 2009 on suspicion of shining a green laser at a sheriff’s helicopter 9100 block of Olympic Boulevard in Pico Rivera, authorities said.
Green lasers, which are brighter than their more traditional red counterparts, have come down in price significantly in recent years and can be purchased online for about five dollars.
According to a 2009 statement issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “The light energy from a laser pointer aimed at the eye can be more damaging than staring directly into the sun.”
“Flash blindness” — defined by the FDA as a loss of vision lasting seconds to minutes that occurs when the eye is exposed suddenly to intense light — can occur, “even from an unintentional sweep of a laser light across a person’s eyes.”
“Recent reports of flash blindness in pilots from laser lights beamed at aircraft have further heightened the agency’s concerns,” the statement continued.
The FDA is especially concerned about the extra bright green varieties of laser pointers, as they can be altered to be more powerful than originally designed or allowed by law.
Lopez said he wanted to remind the public of the consequences of shining a laser at an aircraft.
Not only does it pose a danger to the aircraft, he said, but it’s also viewed by law enforcement officials as a serious offense.
“If your caught, and your responsible for this action, it’s a felony,” Lopez said. “You can go to state prison for it.”
BOOKING PHOTO of Jose Gutierrez, 28, of West Covina courtesy of the West Covina Police Department.