Bakersfield man sentenced to 18 months for striking sheriff's helicopter with a laser

United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced Monday that 26-year-old Bakersfield resident Pablo Cesar Sahagun will spend 18 months in prison for aiming a laser beam at a Kern County Sheriff's helicopter.

Sahagun pleaded guilty on January 11, and according to court documents, he repeatedly struck and tracked a KCSO helicopter.

The key-activated laser used by Sahagun purports a one-watt laser beam, 2,000 times more powerful than what is legally permissible.

"This is an egregious case of a laser strike," U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd said. "The circumstances are inexplicable."

The laser strike caused the pilots to experience flash blindness, glare, blurry vision, eye discomfort, headaches and irritation.

A press release from the Department of Justice said that reports of laser attacks on aircraft have increased dramatically in recent years as more powerful lasers have become available for purchase.

From 2011 to 2015, the Department of Justice reported more than 23,000 laser illumination incidents in the United States. A reported 22 attacks happen every day.

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