Jefferson County man sentenced to 8 months in prison for shining laser pointer at helicopter

Crime

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A Jefferson County has been sentenced to nearly a year in prison for aiming a laser pointer at a helicopter flown by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Gabriel Lopez Mathews, 27, was sentenced to eight months in prison for aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona announced in a press released sent out Wednesday. Mathews pleaded guilty to the charge in April.

On April 11, 2020, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Star One helicopter was assisting the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency in a nighttime operation to recover stolen firearms. While flying below an approach path for the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, the helicopter received numerous laser strikes from a residence below. 

According to Escalona, the helicopter’s tactical officer was able to determine the street location of the source of the laser strikes, which was relayed to the Birmingham Police Department, who responded to the scene but could not locate a Mathews. However, they gathered information that later assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation in tracking down Mathews and obtaining a confession.

“Pointing a laser at an aircraft can disorient the pilot and cause the aircraft to crash,” Escalona said. “Laser strikes can be deadly, and individuals who put pilots and residents in the path of the aircraft in danger will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The FBI investigated the case, along with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Birmingham Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Baty prosecuted the case.

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