UPDATED 03/18/11 4:36 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Authorities have charged a woman and man for allegedly pointing a laser into the sky, in the direction of a commercial plane and a Chicago Police helicopter.
Shania Smith, 22, of the 8200 block of South Elizabeth Street, and Elvin Slater, 24, of the 400 block of West 60th Street, have each been charged with two counts of discharging a laser pointer at a police officer and four counts of discharging a laser at an aircraft.
The charges are misdemeanors, police said.
As CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot reports, a Southwest Airlines jet was approaching Midway International Airport, when two people on the ground pointed a laser at the flight crew.
It was Southwest Airlines flight 1583 from San Francisco to Chicago, with 137 passengers and five crew members on board.
Upon descent into Midway, a pilot noticed a laser beam and reported it immediately to the tower. The tower called Chicago police who then converged the 6000 block of South Stewart Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood. Police were guided there by the police helicopter that had been sent out to investigate the incident, because the pair using the laser pointer also pointed it at the helicopter.
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The helicopter pilot was able to zero in on the source of the laser beam and when police arrived at the location, they found 22-year-old Shania Smith and 24-year-old Elvin Slater in a vehicle, with a laser in their possession.
No one in the plane or helicopter was hurt because of the incident, police News Affairs Officer Hector Alfaro said.
State Rep. Dave Winters, who is also a pilot, has sponsored legislation that would make shining a laser pointer at a pilot a Class A misdemeanor in Illinois, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Currently, there are no specific state charges for pointing a laser at an airplane pilot, Winters said.
“These arrests that took place were because they illuminated a police helicopter. In law enforcement you cannot illuminate them with a laser because they think it’s attached to a gun,” Winters said.
That was why Smith and Slater were charged with two counts of discharging a laser pointer at a police officer and four counts of discharging a laser at an aircraft – which, in this case, was the police helicopter.
Winters said pointing a laser at an airplane does far more than endanger the pilot.
“If they’re a single occupant pilot, there’s no backup and you end up with a threatening people on the ground with a crash, an airplane out of control,” Winters said. “When we see the first plane crash because of the laser, it’s a tragedy that we’re hoping to prevent.”
Habermehl warned that pointing a laser can cause flash blindness for a pilot at a critical moment when a plane is landing, and can also cause involuntary sneezing fits for some people.
Police said this was the second time they’ve made arrests following an incident like this.
The arrests were possible because of the quick action of the Chicago police working with the Cook County Sheriff’s Helicopter Operations Task Force.