by: Amy Clancy Updated:
Just after 6 p.m. Tuesday, King County Sheriff’s Office's helicopter – Guardian One – was hit with a sudden flash of light as it flew above Shoreline.
“A green laser light illuminated the cockpit, which was very bright,” Deputy Jessica Santos told KIRO 7 on Wednesday.
The laser “actually caused some temporary blindness” to the crew.
Santos said the green laser stayed focused on the chopper as it maneuvered above.
Sheriff’s deputies on the ground were notified, and within minutes, a 28-year old Shoreline man was identified as a suspect and interviewed by detectives.
Tuesday’s incident was just the latest in an on-going string of similar laser attacks.
An Alaska Airlines jet was also targeted by a green laser in July of 2015.
Lasers have lit-up commercial, media and law enforcement aircraft dozens of times in recent years, including the cockpit of LA Police pilot Kevin Cooks.
“You want to turn away from that light source, but when it lights up the cockpit, you can’t,” Cooks told CBS News in 2015.
“It’s incapacitating for a few moments.”
The problem has become so serious that the FBI offered cash rewards for three months in 2014 for information leading to arrests and convictions.
“You could bring a whole plane down if a pilot is sufficiently blinded,” Ayn Dietrich, of the FBI’s Seattle office, said.
If convicted in federal court, laser suspects could face five years in prison and a fine of $11,000.
In Washington State, “unlawful discharge of a laser” is a Class C felony with a maximum of one year in jail.
Santos said that it’s still not known whether the man identified in Tuesday night’s incident will face federal or local charges.
Despite the seriousness of the crime, he is not behind bars.
“He wasn’t booked at that time, but that doesn’t mean that it was less significant,” Santos said.
“It means our detectives are doing a thorough investigation and, when appropriate, charges will be filed.”
Santos said that more information is expected after the holiday weekend.
She said it’s too early to know whether the suspect in Tuesday’s incident might be responsible for other laser attacks.
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