SAN DIEGO — A Chula Vista man pleaded guilty Thursday to aiming a laser pointer at a federal law enforcement aircraft last summer — a crime that poses dire hazards because it can lead to temporary blindness in pilots.
Michael Angelo Ramirez, 27, admitted in federal court in San Diego to intentionally shining the laser from inside an SUV toward the U.S. Customs and Border Protection A-Star helicopter as it flew near Proctor Valley Road on Aug. 19.
The flash forced one of the two crew members aboard the aircraft, a flight spotter, to close his eyes, creating a dangerous situation as the personnel flew over power lines, court documents state.
The pilot of the helicopter maneuvered it above the Jeep Patriot the defendant was in and lit it up with a searchlight. As the helicopter followed the SUV with its searchlight focused on it, the laser beam continued shining toward the aircraft, according to prosecutors.
The CBP helicopter followed the Jeep to a shopping center at Proctor Valley Road and Mount Miguel Road, where Chula Vista police intercepted it and questioned its occupants.
Ramirez, a passenger in the vehicle, told police he shined the laser at what he thought was a drone, then realized that it was a helicopter and turned the device off.
Ramirez, who was arrested and remains in custody, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.