San Diego Superior Court Judge Runston Maino turned down a defense motion to reduce the offense against Robert Louis Silva Jr., 33, to a misdemeanor at the end of the preliminary hearing.
“Mr. Silva appreciates how severe and dangerous this could have been,” said his attorney, Jesse Adriance. “Mr. Silva has apologized profusely.
“He expressed immediate remorse,” said Adriance, adding that there was no intent by Silva to cause the helicopter to crash or to harm anyone in the crew.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Runyon told Maino he was strongly opposed to reduce the charge in the March 21 incident, saying “this is not misdemeanor conduct.”
While Maino said he did not think Silva should go to prison if he is convicted, he said he declined to reduce the offense because of testimony the laser struck the helicopter for several minutes.
Officer Ryan Welch testified he was aboard the ABLE helicopter when a purplish laser beam entered the cockpit at 10:30 p.m. while they were flying several miles from Fiesta Island.
“I had irritation in the eyes,” said Welch. “We saw the laser being pointed at us.”
Welch said the pilot mentioned his eyes were irritated so he donned special goggles so he could see more clearly. “It was a constant irritation in your face, in your eyes,” said Welch, who added the beam left the aircraft but returned 2-3 times.
Welch said he was concerned about a laser hitting commercial aircraft at Lindbergh Field, so he contacted Officer Daniel Neifer who was on patrol. Welch said the helicopter circled around a vehicle on Fiesta Island where the laser originated.
Neifer described Silva as calm and cooperative. Neifer said Silva “seemed to be upset” when he heard that it was a police helicopter that was hit by the laser.
Neifer said Silva claimed he “pointed it at his friend’s drone” and that he had mistakenly concluded the helicopter was only a small drone device. Neifer said Silva said the helicopter “sounded like his friend’s drone.”
The six-inch laser device was impounded from Silva’s vehicle and he was arrested.
District Attorney investigator Steve Hutchinson testified an expert evaluated the laser and determined the device could cause retina damage. Hutchinson quoted the expert as telling him “the human eye could not blink fast enough to stop a laser” from striking an eye.
Maino ordered Silva to return to court on Sept. 18 to set a trial date. Silva, a bartender, remains free on $25,000 bond. He has pleaded not guilty.