Two Orange County men have been charged in separate federal criminal cases with pointing the beam of a laser at police helicopters.
Brett Wayne Parkins, 42, of Huntington Beach, is expected to make an initial appearance in federal court today, November 4, 2021, following his arrest on Wednesday by FBI agents at his residence. According to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Orange County, Parkins on July 25 knowingly aimed the beam of a laser at an aircraft; namely, a helicopter owned and operated by the Huntington Beach Police Department.
If convicted of the charges in the indictment, Parkins faces a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
In the second case, Eric Jayson Suarez, 47, of Santa Ana, was charged with knowingly aiming the beam of a laser pointer at a helicopter owned and operated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department on April 13, according to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Orange County. Suarez was arrested on October 13.
On October 26, federal prosecutors filed a plea agreement in which Suarez, who is currently held without bond, agreed to plead guilty to the charge of aiming a laser at an aircraft. He is scheduled to formally enter the guilty plea on November 22. Once he pleads guilty, Suarez will face a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The FBI is investigating these matters with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Huntington Beach Police Department.
Assistant United States Attorney Kristin Spencer of the Santa Ana Branch Office is prosecuting the Parkins case, and Assistant United States Attorney Varun Behl is prosecuting the Suarez case.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), laser strikes increased in 2020 despite a lower number of air traffic operations. The FAA reported 6,852 laser incidents in 2020, up from 6,136 in 2019. This is the highest reported number of incidents since 2016.
Intentionally aiming lasers at aircraft poses a safety threat to pilots and violates federal law. Criminal and civil penalties are pursued against offenders.
Technology has advanced the effectiveness of laser devices, resulting in an increase in potential safety hazards for pilots and their passengers. Such safety hazards include temporary distraction and impaired vision, which is particularly dangerous during the critical takeoff or landing phase of flight. In addition, pilots have reported the need to abort landings or relinquish control of the aircraft to another pilot as a result of laser attacks.
To learn more or to report a laser incident, please visit FAA.gov.