Man arrested after laser pointed at TPD helicopter

A Tampa man is facing felony charges for allegedly pointing a laser at a police helicopter early Sunday morning.

Authorities are warning residents that lasers may seem harmless on the ground, but they can be a deadly weapon in the sky.

"It completely throws off everything that we're doing, and it's a huge threat, especially at night," said pilot Stuart O'Shannon with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "If the lasers hit just right and happen to hit into the night vision goggles, there is a high risk of getting temporary or even permanent damage to the eye."

O'Shannon has been targeted with lasers five times, most recently in September while assisting in the search for a burglary suspect in southern Hillsborough County.

 "We got struck by a laser several times during that incident, to the point where we actually had to break off that call to try and go locate the subject," said O'Shannon.

 Tampa Police pilots were put in a similar situation on Sunday. While on routine flight operations, they noticed a blue laser being directed from the ground into their cockpit around 3:40 a.m.

The air crew used equipment on board the helicopter to pinpoint the location of the light and direct patrol units to the address where the laser was shot.

Officers arrived in the 10000 block of North Central Avenue in Tampa to find Mark White, 40, in his backyard with a blue laser in hand.

White was arrested for the felony criminal offense of Targeting an Aircraft with a Laser.

The FBI was notified, and agents came to question White at the Tampa Police District 2 Office.

White could face additional federal criminal charges, according to Tampa Police.

He was transported to the Hillsborough County Jail, but was released on a $2,000 bond Sunday afternoon.

In 2014, there were 3,894 laser incidents reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Estimates show there could be as many as 7,400 incidents by the end of 2015.

Authorities are cracking down on punishments for laser incidents.

In September, Mark Geoghagan, 55, of Ocala, was arrested on felony charges for pointing his laser hair growth comb at a Marion County Sheriff's helicopter.

Local pilots want to warn residents that playing with a laser outside is not a game, and it can be dangerous.

"If they do, they face consequences, not only on a local level, but a federal level. That's nothing to joke with," said O'Shannon.