LOS ANGELES – A Santa Ana man pleaded guilty today to a federal criminal charge for intentionally aiming a laser pointer’s beam at an in-flight Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopter, which blinded the crew for several seconds.
Eric Jayson Suarez, 47, pleaded guilty to one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.
According to his plea agreement, on the evening of April 13, 2020, an Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopter was flying above the intersection of Bristol and First streets in Santa Ana. Suarez, sitting alone in his car that was parked approximately 20 blocks away, saw the helicopter in flight, intentionally pointed a high-intensity green laser beam at the aircraft and struck the cockpit at least four times with his laser pointer’s beam.
Suarez’s laser beam blinded the helicopter’s pilot and tactical flight officer for several seconds, impacting their ability to see the ground and to detect hazards and jeopardizing the safety of the flight crew, the helicopter, other nearby aircraft, and individuals on the ground.
Law enforcement determined Suarez’s location and followed him to a retail shopping center in Santa Ana. Shortly before officers stopped Suarez’s car in a parking lot, Suarez threw his laser pointer out the car’s window. Law enforcement later recovered the laser pointer, approximately 50 feet from where they stopped Suarez’s car.
In February 2015, Suarez was convicted in Orange County Superior Court of unlawful discharge of a laser at an occupied aircraft. In March 2020, law enforcement officers responded to a report of a green laser beam that shone from Suarez’s backyard and struck a helicopter approximately eight times. That night, an officer warned Suarez would be “disastrous” because it could blind the pilot and cause the aircraft to crash, the plea agreement states.
United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson has scheduled a March 7, 2022 sentencing hearing, at which time Suarez will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
The FBI, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and the Santa Ana Police Department investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Varun Behl of the General Crimes Section is prosecuting this case.