Henderson man pleads guilty in helicopter laser strikes

A Henderson man admitted in federal court Thursday that he pointed a powerful laser at Las Vegas police helicopters earlier this year.

James Zipf, 30, of Henderson pleaded guilty to one of six felony counts of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.

The other five counts will be dismissed at his Sept. 25 sentencing before U.S. District Judge Miranda Du as part of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

Zipf was indicted by a federal grand jury in February in a half-dozen laser strikes between Jan. 31 and Feb. 12.

Prosecutors alleged that Zipf, who is in federal custody, had endangered those aboard the aircraft.

In one attack the pilot became so disoriented that he had to land and end his shift, Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Yang said.

On Thursday, with family members in the courtroom gallery and defense lawyer Stan Hunterton at his side, Zipf told Du that he meant no harm.

“I liked the laser,” he said. “I just wanted to see what I could point at.”

Zipf, who moved to Henderson from Phoenix nine months ago, has a 2011 conviction for pointing a similar blue laser at police helicopters there.

The Las Vegas charges are part a federal statute enacted by Congress in 2012 and come amid a national campaign by the FBI to curb the rising number of laser strikes on aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration has since 2010 ranked Las Vegas among the top 10 in the nation of cities where pilots are reporting laser strikes. There were 94 reports in 2013, ranking Las Vegas sixth.

In 2013, according to the FBI, 3,960 laser strikes were reported in the country, an average of 11 strikes a day.

That amounts to a 1,100 percent increase since the FAA began tracking laser strikes in 2005, Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said earlier in the year.

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.