NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A man pleaded guilty Tuesday to aiming a laser pointer at commercial jet planes near LaGuardia Airport back in March.
The laser also caused the pilots of an NYPD helicopter to lose sight temporarily, prosecutors said.
Elehecer “Eddy” Balaguer, 54, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.
“Lasers, when pointed at aircraft, have the ability to incapacitate and injure pilots. Thankfully, this case did not end in tragedy, but Elehecer Balaguer’s actions were serious and posed a danger,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a news release. “Others should understand that they will be prosecuted criminally if they engage in this conduct.”
On March 9, the pilots of three commercial airliners near LaGuardia were struck with the bright green beam, prosecutors said. They temporarily lost focus and in two cases, they were briefly blinded, prosecutors said.
All three jet planes were full of passengers and were either taking off or landing at LaGuardia. The incident forced an air traffic controller at the airport to change the runway directions for all planes using the airport to avoid the laser beam, prosecutors said.
The pilots all noticed that the beam seemed to be coming from the Bronx, prosecutors said. Later the same night, NYPD Aviation Unit officers flew a helicopter near the location where the planes had been struck with the beam, and then the beam hit the police helicopter too, prosecutors said.
Both police pilots were temporarily blinded, prosecutors said. But they did figure out that the beam was coming from a specific second-floor apartment in the Bronx, prosecutors said.
Police came to the apartment that night, and took a laser pointer. Balaguer initially admitted he owned the laser pointer, but claimed not to know who pointed it.
It was after his friend, Frank Egan, was arrested in connection with the incident that Balaguer admitted responsibility, authorities said.
Egan appeared in court a week after the incident on assault on a police officer, reckless endangerment and other charges. But Balaguer came to court with Egan, and admitted having aimed the laser pointer, prosecutors said.
At Egan’s hearing, Balaguer told the court Egan was asleep in a bedroom when he pointed the laser, and said he let Egan take the fall because of his past.
Balaguer could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison.
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