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Massachusetts Man Used Industrial Laser On Police Copter

January 11, 2011  | 

A Medford, Mass., man was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison for lasering a law enforcement helicopter. He's only the second man in the nation convicted of this crime.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro sentenced Gerard Sasso, 52, for shining a powerful green laser beam into a Massachusetts State Police helicopter that was escorting an LNG tanker through Boston Harbor, then lying about it to law enforcement.

Sasso's other convictions include willfully interfering with an aircraft operator with reckless disregard for human life and making false statements.

On Dec. 8, 2007, a state police helicopter was escorting a liquid natural gas tanker through Boston Harbor to the Distrigas Terminal in Everett. At approximately 9:15 p.m., the helicopter pilots saw a strange green light coming directly towards the cockpit and immediately recognized it as a laser beam. Despite taking evasive action to avoid being hit, the pilots were struck by the laser beam, which filled the entire cockpit with an intense sparkling green light.

The pilots viewed the laser beam as a potential threat to themselves, to the LNG tanker, and to planes landing at nearby Logan Airport. With the assent of the Coast Guard, which was supervising the LNG escort mission, the pilots began flying an "S" shaped pattern towards the beam in order to identify its source without being struck in the face by the laser.

As they flew closer to the beam's source, the beam kept following them, and it struck the helicopter at least four more times. The pilots were eventually able to determine that the beam was likely coming from a window in Sasso's third-floor apartment.

Officers responded to Sasso's apartment and interviewed him, at which time he falsely stated that he was not the person who had lasered the helicopter, that he knew nothing about the lasering incident, and that he owned no lasers.

Sasso repeated these false statements several more times until officers noticed a laser pointer on his bedside table. Sasso then confessed that he had, in fact, lasered the helicopter and that he had hidden the green laser in his baseboard heating system. Police recovered 11 lasers from Sasso's apartment.

The laser used by Sasso is classified by the Food and Drug Administration as a Class IIIb laser, which is a type of laser designed only for light shows and industrial and research applications, not for use as a laser pointer or amusement device. It is at least five to ten times more powerful than an ordinary laser pointer and has a range of at least two miles.

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