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Rising trend of laser-pointing at planes, helicopters

January 4, 2012 9:24:42 PM PST
A Glendora man is behind bars after allegedly pointing a laser at a police helicopter. The blinding light can turn downright deadly for a pilot and anyone in the path of a potential crash. Yet the incident is part of a rising trend. Law enforcement aims to reverse it.

On patrol in the San Gabriel Basin, thousands of feet above ground at 6 p.m. Tuesday night, a blinding strike by a laser pointer, the type that has harassed and endangered pilots across the country.

"It's very distracting. The pilot could actually be hit in the eye. The laser could cause damage, and there's a potential for the helicopter to crash," said Officer Michael Weathermon, Region One Air Support.

Lucky Weathermon and his pilot, the Region One Air Support Unit based out of El Monte was recently trained by the FBI on how to react to a laser hit and track down the laser-wielding offender.

With the help of Glendora and Azusa police departments, an arrest in Tuesday night's case came within minutes.

The suspect, 31-year-old Jerrod Ferren of Glendora, faces a possible year behind bars and a new federal fine of up to $11,000 if he's convicted.

"They are not toys," said Weathermon.

The fact is laser illuminations are on the rise.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of aircraft targeted in 2010 was 2,800. That is nearly double the previous year. In 2011, the number went up again: 3,345 as of December 9.

LAPD and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department confirm that the upward trend continues in the Southland. Planes into LAX are hit more often than any other airport in the country.

LAPD made nine arrests this year including Clark Gable III, grandson of the famed actor. He pleaded guilty to felony discharge of a laser at an occupied aircraft. His expected sentence is 10 days in jail and 200 hours of community service for Caltrans.

The FAA and pilots everywhere hope that stiffer penalties will reverse the trend. Meantime, they remind the public that any offense jeopardizes the safety of everyone.