Man sentenced, deputies discuss dangers of pointing lasers

Man sentenced, deputies discuss dangers of pointing lasers »Play Video
Sheriff Deputy Doug Ely
A Bakersfield man will spend two years in federal prison for pointing a laser at a Kern County Sheriff's Office helicopter last November.

Jared James Dooley, 28, was sentenced in Friday in Fresno.

It's a danger the sheriff's officials say they take seriously. Two more men have been arrested in the last two weeks in similar, separate incidents.

In the incident last November, Dooley was accused of attempting to interfere with the safe operation of the sheriff helicopter by shining a powerful, hand-held laser into the cockpit.

Sheriff's Deputy Doug Ely was at the controls of the helicopter that night, and he explained why the laser device is so dangerous when pointed at an aircraft. Ely pointed to one of the helicopters he flies for the department, and made note of its curved windshield.

"What happens is the laser, which is condensed light, hits the cockpit window," Ely said. "The light diffuses and separates, it can be more of a problem for the eye. Once it hits the eye, it diffuses more."

The prosecutors say the danger to the pilot was clear.

"At that time, the helicopter was flying at 500 feet above ground level during a routine patrol in Bakersfield, California. When the light hit the cockpit, it disoriented the Kern County Sheriff's pilot," read a statement from the Department of Justice.

Ely says he suffered minor eye irritation in the incident.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said his department will track down suspects in laser cases, make the arrests and then send the case to federal agents. Sometimes the cases will be prosecuted at the federal level.

"It depends a lot on the type of laser that they used, how long of an episode and if the pilots received any damage or if they get impaired," Youngblood said.

In the 2007 case, prosecutors said the pilot and an observer managed to pinpoint the origin of the laser to Dooley's home. Officers then served a search warrant and found a hand-held green laser device in Dooley's pickup and a red laser in his home.

Dooley and his girlfriend, Kendra Snow, 26, later admitted they used the green laser device on the night of the incident, according to the DOJ statement.

"Snow told investigating agents that she and Dooley were standing in the driveway on Nov. 8 and 'taking turns shining the laser around watching the trackers in the sky,'" according to the statement.

Last week, Kern County Sheriff's deputies arrested Scott Francis Kress, 49, for allegedly pointing a laser at a department helicopter. Officers say that incident happened on the 4600 block of Perris Way.

Kress said the incident was a "misunderstanding." The charge against Kress was reduced to a misdemeanor in Kern County Superior Court on Friday, but Kress said he'll continue to fight the case.

On Thursday, officers say a laser was pointed at a helicopter from the 600 block of Douglas Avenue. In that case, Tyrone Green, 44, of Bakersfield was arrested.

Deputies say the flight that night was interrupted by the laser strike, and the crew had to take immediate action.

Pilot Ely was at the controls in that case, too.

"I was on the night vision goggles that we utilize. The light gets intensified in these goggles and it spreads and makes it even worse," said Ely.

Youngblood said that kind of interference is a real danger. It's a hazard to the crew in the aircraft, and could be a danger to people on the ground.

The sheriff vowed his department will track down anyone who points a laser at their helicopters or planes.

"We have the equipment to follow them if they do this," said Youngblood. "And worse case scenario, they could cause a scenario."

In the federal case involving Dooley, the co-defendant, Snow, is now set to be sentenced in federal court at the end of October.