Linda man to FAA: Pointing laser at copter was mistake
A Linda man, who faces a $7,700 fine from the Federal Aviation Administration for aiming his laser pointer at a California Highway Patrol helicopter assisting the Yuba County Sheriff's Department, says it was an accident.
Stephen Gunner Gama, 51, says in a letter to the FAA — which will hold a Feb. 14 hearing in San Francisco on the proposed civil penalty — that he was tracing changing star patterns in the sky and did not notice any approaching aircraft.
"I apologize for any accidental contact," Gamma said of the Feb. 25, 2012, incident. "There was never any malicious intent."
He said he supports four children and that his mother recently lost her home in a fire. Gama said he also lost his own home in a separate fire.
Gama, in a separate criminal case in Yuba County Superior Court, pleaded no contest in May to a felony charge of aiming a laser at an aircraft. He was later placed on two years of felony probation.
A probation report notes that Gama said he had been a paratrooper in the US Army and would not intentionally attempt to shine a beam on an aircraft.
The FAA said the laser used at 2:37 a.m. illuminated the cockpit of the CHP helicopter and the pilot diverted the aircraft from assisting the Sheriff's Department on a search.
Ian Gregor, FAA spokesman, said he could not comment specifically on the Gama matter but said the federal agency takes laser incidents very seriously because they can distract pilots or impair their vision while they are in landing or takeoff. In 2011, the agency proposed civil penalties of up to $11,000 against people who point lasers at aircraft.
Advanced camera technology trailed Gama and led an officer to within yards of the Linda man standing in bushes, according to Yuba County Superior Court documents.
Officers in the copter were not injured and the craft was not damaged, the probation report said.
Gama graduated from Marysville High School in 1979 and was inducted into the Army the same year, according to probation. He was injured in a training exercise and receives a monthly $2,285 pension from Veterans Affairs because of a parachute accident that occurred in Germany, probation stated.
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