A Port Angeles-area man pleaded guilty Monday at the U.S. District Court in Tacoma for aiming a laser pointer at a Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles aircrew in 2016.
Randall Muck, 35, pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of assault on a federal officer under Title 18 U.S. Code Section 111a. Muck was sentenced to 90 days of home confinement with electronic monitoring, one year of probation and a $1,000 fine.
Muck illuminated an MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter crew with a green laser light while the aircrew was on final approach to Air Station Port Angeles on Sept. 26, 2016. At the time, the crew of four returned to base with no injuries reported.
Coast Guard Investigative Service agents identified Muck as the subject following incriminating statements he made at work. Muck’s girlfriend witnessed the act from their residence and provided corroborating information. The case was referred to the Department of Justice Western District of Washington on Feb. 26, 2018 and presented to a grand jury on May 16, 2019.
“These types of incidents can be very dangerous to the safety of our aircrews and disrupts our ability to respond as a search and rescue asset,” said Cmdr. Mark Hiigel, former commanding officer of Air Station Port Angeles. “In this particular case, the aircrew was medically grounded for approximately two hours. This resulted in Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Sector Columbia River, located in Warrenton, Oregon, covering our area of responsibility until the Port Angeles aircrew was medically cleared. We need the general public to understand that the dangers of playing with green laser lights goes beyond medical risks to our aircrews, it places all mariners at risk due to delayed response times should they become in distress.”
Laser pointers can cause great danger to Coast Guard air and boatcrews due to glare, afterimage, flash blindness, or temporary loss of night vision. Coast Guard flight rules dictate that aircraft must abort their mission if a laser is shined in the eyes of an aircrew member.
Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft or vessel is a felony crime under 18 U.S. Code Section 39A, which states whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both. It is also a crime under 18 U.S. Code Section 111 to forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, or interfere with a federal officer while engaged in the performance of official duties.
The Port Angeles Police Department, Coast Guard Investigative Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation assisted with the investigation.
For more information about laser safety and the effects of a laser incident, visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s Laser Safety Imitative webpage at http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers/.