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Laser briefly blinds police helicopter pilots

Authorities weigh charges against an 18-year-old suspected of pointing the high-powered beam.

November 04, 2010|By Veronica Rocha,

GLENDALE — Authorities are mulling whether to press charges against an 18-year-old man arrested during the weekend on suspicion of pointing a high-power laser at a police helicopter and momentarily blinding its two pilots.

Mher Urfalyan was arrested at 6:35 p.m. Saturday after he allegedly pointed the laser at the two helicopter pilots, one each from Burbank and Glendale police departments, who were on regular patrol, Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.

The pilots had difficultly seeing after being flashed with the green-colored laser, Lorenz said, but they never lost sight of the source — a white 2008 Nissan Altima, according to police reports.


They directed patrol cars to the Nissan, which was stopped at South Adams and East Harvard streets, according to reports.

During the stop, the driver of the Nissan told police that Urfalyan had said, "Is that a blimp?" and then pointed the laser at the helicopter, according to police reports.

Urfalyan allegedly told police that he twice activated the laser, but didn't know that the aircraft was a Glendale police helicopter.

Glendale Police Sgt. Steve Robertson is all too familiar with the consequences of pointing a laser at a helicopter.

Robertson's corneas were severely burned 15 years ago when his police helicopter was flashed with lasers. He said it felt similar to being hit by a baseball bat.

"It's no different than pointing a gun or shooting at a police officer," he said. "It could have the same outcome."

Robertson said he avoided crashing because he was flying with another pilot.

After being struck by the laser, Robertson was taken to a nearby hospital, where doctors scraped his corneas. He returned to work four days later and still has 20/20 vision, he said.

Robertson's injury was the last laser-related injury to the department's helicopter pilots.

Still, lasers have been pointed at pilots at least 15 times, Robertson said. And of those incidents, police have arrested about nine people.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft also carries stiff penalties since it is a federal offense.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office is reviewing the case for possible charges.

Urfalyan, who has since been released on bail, is scheduled to be arraigned on possible charges Dec. 28, officials said.

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