United States Attorney Bill Nettles said that Damien Conley, 33, was sentenced in federal court in Spartanburg on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis sentenced Conley to thirty-seven months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to the charge.
Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that on November 20, 2013, Conley aimed the beam of a laser pointer at two news helicopters as they were flying to cover an accident on the interstate. The beam from the laser pointer struck each helicopter and created a glare on the windshields of the cockpits. WYFF-TV in Greenville owned one of the helicopters and caught the incident on film. Conley told the station at the time that he was just “playing with the laser.”
“I personally don’t think I should be charged. There ain’t nothing to investigate,” he told WYFF.
Aviation officials say pointing a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is dangerous because the pilot can be temporarily blinded by the laser light and can become disoriented while trying to continue operating the aircraft. Such an act can interfere with the safe operation of an aircraft and poses significant risk of accident and injury.
The case was investigated by the FBI. Assistant United States Attorney Max Cauthen of the Greenville office prosecuted the case.