Pilots are virtually blinded when someone shines a laser pointer at their aircraft. That’s what happened to a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy.
Chuck Tuberville has been a BCSO deputy for 15 years, and a pilot of the department’s two helicopters for about six.
“I love what I do. Wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he told KRQE News 13.
But all too often, he says, people try to make his job in the skies difficult and dangerous. Like, last summer, when deputies say 33-year-old Nicholas Baca shined a laser pointer at BCSO’s AStar helicopter while Tuberville was flying it on routine patrol.
“He was hitting us with the laser pretty repeatedly,” he described. “Typically what we do when we see that, is we go try and find where it came from.”
In this case, law enforcement were able to find the truck Baca was allegedly driving and chased it, until Baca got out and ran on foot.
He was caught, however, and deputies say a laser pointer was later located in his truck, along with heroin.
Baca was indicted for the federal offense in the fall, and a judge released him on probation. As of this week, though, he’s back behind bars after failing a drug test at a halfway house.
His state charges for fleeing from law enforcement and the heroin have been dismissed for now.
This is just one example of a very serious and very common crime.
“It’s not like on the ground, when you have a little laser pointer. Up when we’re in the air, it’s about the size of a basketball when it hits us. It’s a huge bright light. It’s very distracting,” Tuberville said.
His night vision goggles are washed out, too, making it nearly impossible to see instruments in the helicopter. If the laser is commercial grade, it can even permanently damage the pilot’s retinas.
Tuberville says this doesn’t just happen to helicopters. When airplanes are targeted, BCSO will launch its helicopter to try and track down who did it.