FBI cracks down on pointing lasers at aircraft; Austin among worst

Authorities meet to discuss the penalties of pointing lasers at aircraft. (Thomas Costley/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Four Texas cities, including Austin, were among the top 20 when it came to reports of laser strikes against aircraft.

The FBI announced a national campaign Tuesday to discourage people from pointing lasers at aircraft, even offering rewards of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of individuals who commit the crime. Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense.

There were 48 laser attacks reported in Austin in 2013, up from 21 the year before. It ranked as 18th most in the nation.

Houston recorded 126 strikes, Dallas-Fort Worth had 65 strikes and San Antonio reported 50. Of the four Texas metro areas, only DFW saw a decrease in strikes from 2012 to 2013.

Nationwide there were nearly 4,000 laser strikes last year.

“Although our previous efforts to raise public awareness have shown early signs of success in reducing the number of laser attacks…the laser threat remains a problem on a much larger scale,” said Joseph Campbell, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division.

Last week, a 25-year-old Austin man was arrested after officials said he pointed a laser at an Austin Police helicopter. Authorities declined to say how they tracked Gabriel Soza Ruedas, Jr. down since the case was ongoing.

“Shining a laser at aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot which could result in the loss of aircraft control and human life,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs. “This case should serve as a warning to others who engage in this dangerous criminal activity.”

According to information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the helicopter was on approach to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport when it was illuminated by Ruedas’ LASER pointer.

“Intentionally aiming a laser at an aircraft poses a serious threat to those in the air and on the ground – and it’s a serious crime with serious consequences”, said Capt. Lee Moak, international president of the Air Line Pilots Association.

Under federal law, knowingly aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a felony offense, carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Field Office / Major Metropolitan Areas 2012 2013
Portland 100 139
Houston 101 126
Phoenix 158 123
Los Angeles 88 107
San Juan 57 107
Las Vegas 83 94
Chicago 73 93
New York 62 92
Honolulu 31 69
Miami 54 68
Dallas-Ft. Worth 98 65
San Jose 33 63
Denver 32 62
Philadelphia 46 55
Tucson 32 54
San Antonio 34 50
San Diego 36 50
Austin 21 48
Seattle 21 47
Salt Lake 35 46

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