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Man Suspected of Pointing Laser at Fresno Police Helicopter Arrested

Fresno police arrested Alejandro Contreras, 24, on suspicion of pointing a laser at a Fresno police department helicopter Friday. When a laser hits an aircraft, the light expands in the cockpit and can temporarily blind the pilot.

A Fresno man, 24-year-old Alejandro Contreras, is under arrest on suspicion of pointing a laser at a Fresno police helicopter Friday night.

Police say they were patrolling from the air heading west along Barstow approaching Fresno Street when a green laser struck their helicopter several times.

When ground units tracked Contreras, police say he admitted to the crime.

When a laser hits an aircraft, it affects what the pilot can see.

In the past six years, Fresno police helicopter pilot Ken Schneider has experienced this about a dozen times, including Friday night as he and a tactical officer patrolled from the air.

"As we were trying to figure out where it was, he (the tactical officer) became a little bit disoriented with flash blindness because of the intensity of the green laser, and then we were struck and tracked again with that same green laser as we continued westbound," Schneider said.

What looks like a pinpoint light on the ground expands as it hits the aircraft, illuminating the entire cockpit and temporarily blinding the pilot.

Flying over a metropolitan area, that kind of danger puts both those in the air and on the ground at risk.

"If I'm not able to control the aircraft and have an unfortunate incident where we crash, wherever we land, if there's people around, they're going to be impacted as well," Schneider said.

All lasers come with warning labels.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense. If it's prosecuted federally, it carries up to a five-year sentence.

"This is a serious felony charge. And if you get caught, you will be arrested for that," said Lt. Phil Cooley on scene of the arrest Friday night.

There were almost 4,000 reports of lasers striking aircraft last year, according to the FBI.

In March, a Clovis man with an extensive criminal record was sentenced to 14 years in prison for pointing a laser at a Fresno police helicopter and interfering with its operations.
    
The FBI is offering rewards of up to $10,000 for reports of lasers striking aircraft that will lead to an arrest.

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