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NE side man arrested after pointing laser at SAPD chopper

SAPD: Incidents of lasers pointed at aircraft flying around San Antonio on the rise

SAN ANTONIO - On Wednesday night, San Antonio police Blue Eagle helicopter pilots Scott Clark and Kathy O'Conner were responding to a missing child report on the Northeast side when a laser was pointed at their chopper from the ground.

The pilots were able to direct patrol cars to the 4800 block of Castle Guard, where they arrested 42-year-old David G. Chavez for illumination of an aircraft by intense light.

Under Texas state law, the crime is considered a misdemeanor.

"(Chavez) was oblivious to the point that he had impaired he officers way of flying," said SAPD chopper pilot Officer Tony Garcia.

Just about every laser pointer sold comes with a warning about the dangers of eye exposure.

Even a small laser pointer can shoot a beam up to 600 feet -- more than enough to fire into the cockpit of a low flying aircraft.

"It illuminates the whole inside cockpit of the aircraft," said Garcia. "You can't see anything. It's like ... you're seeing stars. You want to close your eyes, but you can't close your eyes."

Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft can blind the pilot for at least five seconds. That's more than enough time for the pilot to lose control of the aircraft and cause a crash.

Garcia says such incidents are on the rise, and have affected all sorts of different aircraft -- from helicopters, all the way up to the large C-5 transport planes the Air Force flies into Port San Antonio.

When a police helicopter is involved, it pulls them off of the duties they were carrying out in responding to a crime or emergency and directs their attention elsewhere.

"Whatever the task is at hand, its now directed at. 'Hey! Let's try to figure out what's going on here because we can't even control the aircraft.'" Garcia said.

Depending on if the pilot is impaired or not, state charges can go anywhere from a Class C to a Class A misdemeanor. 

If the federal government chooses to get involved, it's a charged as a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or up to a $250,000 fine.


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