A Shirley man Wednesday became the first person in the New York area charged under a new federal law with aiming a laser at an aircraft, according to officials.
Angel Rivas, 33, of 1183 William Floyd Pkwy., was arrested early Wednesday morning at his home by FBI agents on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and is accused of aiming a laser pointer in August at a jetliner and a Suffolk police helicopter flying near his house.
The law was passed last year by Congress, following growing complaints by airline personnel of cases in which the laser devices were hitting aircraft, at times impairing pilots' vision and endangering the aircraft.
Officials have said that a laser light directed at a cockpit can momentarily blind a pilot and impair vision for a time.
An FBI spokesman in New York, James Margolin, said the bureau has investigated 72 cases in the metropolitan area alone in 2012 in which pilots reported that their plane was struck by a laser beam.
Rivas, who works in a metal-coating factory, was arraigned on the laser charge before U.S. Magistrate Arlene Lindsey at the U.S. District Court in Central Islip Wednesday. He was not required to enter a plea. His attorney, federal public defender Randi Chavis, declined to comment.
According to Eastern District prosecutors and court documents, Rivas used a laser light on cockpits of two aircraft flying near his house on Aug. 21; first, a Sun Country Airlines chartered Boeing 737 heading from Iceland to Kennedy Airport, and then a Suffolk County police helicopter responding to a complaint from the Sun Country pilot.
The police helicopter identified Rivas' home as the source of the laser beam, but Rivas denied he had anything to do with the incident when questioned by an officer in a squad car sent to the scene, the papers said.
On Jan. 4, the same officer responded to a disturbance at a convenience store near Rivas' home. When the officer approached him, Rivas recognized him and blurted out that "he had shined the laser beam at the aircraft," according to the court papers.
Subsequently, Rivas fully confessed to both police and FBI agents, the papers said.
Lindsay released Rivas without bond on the conditions that he not own or use a laser and that federal officers should conduct random searches of his home. If he is convicted, Rivas faces up to 5 years in prison.
With Joseph Mallia