When a Fresno, Calif. man allegedly shot a high-powered green laser at a police helicopter pilot in October, he successfully hit the pilot’s eyes and blinded him — at least momentarily, police said.
That was Michael Alvarez’ goal with the laser pointer, authorities said: He “thought it would be funny to point the laser at a helicopter” from the car he was driving with some passengers just after midnight on Oct. 22, according to new federal charging documents reported by Ars Technica.
Unfortunately for Alvarez, the alleged stunt revealed his location, according to police. He was spotted driving a white, four-door Toyota north on Highway 99, federal charging documents said.
Alvarez, 31, was indicted Nov. 9 on federal charges for the incident, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. If convicted, Alvarez could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
After getting hit by Alvarez’ high-powered laser three times back in October, police said that the helicopter was able to shine its searchlight on the car the laser was coming from, the Fresno Bee reported. The helicopter continued to track the car’s movements from the air as officers on the ground started pursuing his vehicle.
Alvarez then allegedly pulled off the freeway, navigating through residential streets and dropping his passengers off along the way, the Bee reports. One woman in the car asked to get out “because she did not want to get in trouble,” according to the charging documents.
Police finally caught up with Alvarez, though, after he crashed his car and led cops on a short foot chase. Officers found a green laser pointer in his driver’s side door, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Alvarez was arrested on Oct. 22, charged with shining a laser at an aircraft — a felony — reckless driving, and possessing narcotics, the Fresno Bee reported.
The pilot experienced momentary flash blindness, as well as significant loss of night vision, charging documents say.
Laser strikes like the one Alvarez is accused of are a danger because they can be disorienting to pilots, Gizmodo reports, adding that across the country the Federal Aviation Administration has documented about 5,000 laser strikes a year.
"I don’t know of crashes, but I do know of pilots that have suffered permanent disabilities from laser strikes," Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar, who is prosecuting the case, told Ars Technica.
There are serious repercussions for those convicted of laser strikes, too.
In a letter to The Californian, a Bakersfield, Calif. man wrote that a single conviction for aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft resulted in him spending two years in a federal penitentiary, and paying a fine of $10,000.
“I have lost my girlfriend, my dog, my home, my vehicle,” Barry Bowser, Jr., wrote. “For shining a laser at a helicopter for three seconds, I lost my entire life.”
Police also found live ammunition and a BB gun in Alvarez’ car, the Bee reports.
Federal charging documents say that, when Alvarez was being treated at the hospital for minor injuries sustained in the crash, the doctor found “a small plastic baggie” at his groin, with marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine inside.