Austin man pleads guilty to pointing laser at police chopper

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin man pleaded guilty Monday to pointing a laser at an Austin Police Department helicopter in February.

Gabriel Soza Ruedas Jr., 25, admitted to a United States Magistrate Judge that he knowingly aimed the laser at the helicopter as it was on approach to land at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Court documents show the helicopter aborted its landing to investigate the source of the laser, and air traffic controllers issued a warning to other pilots about the incident as they attempted to land.

The helicopter crew was able to relay location information to ground crews who apprehended Ruedas. The laser pointer was found in his pocket.

GOING IN-DEPTH // A National Problem

  • The FBI announced a national campaign in June 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.
  • Four Texas cities, including Austin, were among the top 20 when it came to reports of laser strikes against aircraft.

In an interview last month with KXAN, Ruedas’ family said the 25-year-old did not commit the crime on purpose, and does not belong in jail.

“He was walking through a trail and found a laser and didn’t think anything of it, just like anyone else would see on the ground,” said Rita Young, Ruedas’ mother. “He picked it up and shined it around like, ‘What is this?’ And then next thing you know, Austin police is right there and came and asked, ‘Who has a laser here?’”

Ruedas is still in jail awaiting sentencing before a U.S. district judge. He faces up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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