Portland man charged with aiming laser pointer at incoming planes

Portland man charged with aiming laser pointer at incoming planes »Play Video
Stephen Bukucs

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - An Oregon man has been accused of aiming a laser pointer at two commercial airliners, according to an indictment unsealed in Portland on Monday.

The man - identified as Stephen Francis Bukucs - aimed the laser pointer at United and JetBlue flights in Portland on Oct. 13, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Oregon.

Federal prosecutors say Bukucs, who lives in northeast Portland, was indicted and arrested last week. The 39-year-old pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon.

Prosecutors and his lawyer, Mark Cogan, say Bukucs is addicted to pain killers, and Judge Dennis J. Hubel ordered a mental health evaluation.

Bukucs was released. He must relinquish control of four guns but can keep a fifth for work.

Ten years ago Bukucs volunteered as a reserve officer with the Portland Police Bureau. Some of Bukucs' equipment from his job as a security guard, including body armor, was still in his car Monday outside the apartment where FBI agents took him into custody Friday night.

The security company he works for said he's been put on administrative leave until the federal case is resolved.

The indictment didn't describe in detail the device he's accused of using, or say whether he has an attorney.

Hand-held lasers that can point out objects up to 25,000 feet away are a growing concern for federal authorities, with incidents rising from a few hundred instances of laser attacks on planes in 2005 to nearly 3,000 reports in 2010.

The lasers can temporarily blind pilots.

With incidents on the rise, the FAA has increased the fine for those caught shining lasers into a plane to $11,000.

The Portland airport has also seen a rise in laser incidents in recent years, Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson said. Pilots reported 125 laser incidents through August this year. They reported 100 incidents in 2012, 51 incidents in 2011.

Most laser beams originate away from airport grounds, Johnson said, and it's hard to catch perpetrators because the beams are hard to track.

Due to the rise in attacks, the Port of Portland police have been more actively involved in tracking down laser illuminations, he said.

"It's a very serious safety concern, because lasers can impair the vision of a pilot, which is crucial when operating an aircraft," Johnson said. He declined to speak about last week's incidents.

Last week in New York, the FBI assigned its Joint Terrorism Task Force to investigate laser attacks on two airplanes approaching LaGuardia Airport.

The Associated Press and KATU Investigative Reporter Bob Heye contributed to this story.