A 54-year-old man has been ordered to spend more than two years in prison for pointing a high-powered laser into the cockpit of a Philadelphia police helicopter April 30, 2008.
A federal judge on Wednesday also ordered James Gautieri, of Williamsport, Pa. to pay a $10,000 fine. Gautieri was convicted in September 2010 for interference with an aircraft or aircraft facilities.
Gautieri aimed a laser into the cockpit of a helicopter that was landing in northeast Philadelphia, striking a pilot in the eyes.
“As a direct result of his reckless and irresponsible behavior, the defendant will now have several years to think about how he endangered public safety by shining a laser into a helicopter pilot's eyes,” U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said in a statement.
The pilot was temporarily blinded but the aircraft landed safely. The pilot testified during the trial that if his co-pilot hadn’t taken over the controls, the helicopter would have crashed into the residential neighborhood.
“But for the pilot's skill in the air, the consequences for the citizens on the ground could have been tragic. Unlike a video game, simply hitting the reset button would not have made things okay,” Memeger said.
Authorities say the officers kept a search light on Gautieri until police arrived to arrest him. They found the 54-year-old hiding behind a shed behind his house with the laser pointer next to him on the ground.
The case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“There is simply no excuse for this type of behavior,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. “This defendant could have caused a serious and deadly accident. Let the sentencing today send a message that this behavior will not to be tolerated.”