GREAT FALLS — A Missoula man was sentenced in federal court in Great Falls on Thursday after pleading guilty to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft in flight.
Brian John Loven, 42, pleaded guilty on October 28, 2020.
Prosecutors said that at about 9:40 p.m. on March 3, 2020, two pilots operating a SkyWest flight reported that on their descent to the Great Falls airport, the plane was hit with a bright green laser that lit up the cockpit.
The pilots reported that the incident occurred on the east end of town in the area of Giant Springs State Park.
Cascade County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the area and found a Jeep driving slowly through the parking lot of Heritage Park, which was closed at the time. Loven was a passenger.
The driver told deputies that she was learning how to drive a manual transmission car.
While talking with the driver, deputies noticed a small, black pen-like device sticking out of the center cup holder and asked about the item. The driver said the device was a laser pointer and activated it. The laser pointer projected a green light onto the dashboard.
Deputies interviewed Loven, who admitted to shining the laser at an airplane while it was approaching the airport. Loven explained that he was unaware it was a federal offense to shine a laser at a plane and just wanted to “test out the distance of the laser.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said in a news release that prosecutors recommended a sentence within the federal guideline range of 15 months to 21 months in prison; he will also serve three years of probation.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Morris presided.
“Mr. Loven’s conduct needlessly threatened the safety of the passengers and crew of a commercial aircraft. It is important for the public to understand that pointing any laser, even a small one, at the cockpit of an aircraft can obscure the pilot’s view and jeopardize the safe operations of the aircraft. Fortunately, the Great Falls incident did not result in any injuries. This office regards such cases as serious matters requiring aggressive prosecution,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Johnson.