By Danielle Eden C. Silva
In Department 14, Vincent Valentino Ruiz’s preliminary hearing concluded. Mr. Ruiz has been accused of the felony of discharging a laser at an occupied aircraft. Three witnesses for the prosecution were called to testify against Mr. Ruiz.
Mr. Andre Frenzel was the first to testify. He elaborated on facts about the aircraft he had been flying that day to prove his experience as a pilot to the court. Mr. Frenzel described the plane as a single engine, high-wing, fixed-wing aircraft used to carry passengers and equipment.
On October 12, 2017, Mr. Frenzel had been piloting a plane from Sacramento and was climbing in altitude when a red light in the cockpit caught his eye. He attempted to find the source of the red light. He recalled fearing possible engine trouble or a fire on the wing of the aircraft.
After watching the light for a while and identifying it as a laser, Mr. Frenzel contacted Flight Officer Jonathan Pierce, who had been on board with him. The plane was turned westward toward the light to get a better grasp of the source of the light. During the time it took to identify the source and take action, the color of the light had changed from red to purple to a bright green.
Mr. Frenzel noted the colors to be flashing dangerously, with the green light illuminating the dark cockpit. He noted the dangers of being distracted by the lights, such as developing blind spots or becoming disoriented should they flash in his face. The lights had shone on his face about two or three times with the red light, once with the purple light, and two or three times with the green light. Frenzel stated the lights also appeared to be tracking them. He and Officer Pierce were finally able to pinpoint the source through cameras and screens. He noted that because the laser was distracting, it was now their job to locate the source of the disturbance.
During cross-examination by the defense, Mr. Frenzel stated he had his avian lights (to prevent bird strikes) on. However, when asked to provide evidence of that, Frenzel claimed he currently didn’t have any record. Similarly, no recordings of the light’s effect on the cockpit were available at this preliminary hearing.
After cross-examination, the prosecution presented a one-minute video showing the green light flashing at one of the aircraft’s cameras from a series of dark buildings. This flashing light appeared to be moving about but was mainly focused on the aircraft. Audio then came later from Officer Pierce to a West Sacramento officer attempting to locate the source. Mr. Frenzel identified that video to be the one taken of the laser light.
This witness was excused.
The next to testify was Flight Officer Jonathan Pierce. He had worked with the California Flight Control for 23 years. His work was similar to that of law enforcement, mostly in assisting highway patrol and monitoring traffic.
On the night in question, Officer Pierce had been with Mr. Frenzel. Once he had been informed of the situation, Officer Pierce moved behind the cameras to locate the source of the lights. He confirmed the distraction it imposed, specifically in how dark the cockpit was in comparison to the lights.
He had contacted the West Sacramento Police Department to approach the source and guided them there. Officer Pierce also noted the severity of the laser. He stated if the pilot were blinded and unable to use the instruments needed to control the plane, the plane could lose control. While harm could occur to himself and the pilot, if the plane crashed it could also affect the public.
The final officer who was scheduled to testify had become unavailable and the court recommended a stipulation. The prosecution summarized the items the officer would have testified to had he been on the stand. The West Sacramento officer would note he had been contacted by Officer Pierce to locate the source of a laser pointer. After arriving at the location Officer Pierce had pointed out, the officer found a man named Vincent Ruiz, identified by his driver’s license.
The prosecution noted the officer would have identified the defendant in the courtroom and mentioned Ruiz had been searched – finding three laser pointers of red, violet, and green. The officer would note that Mr. Ruiz claimed he was pointing a light at a UFO. The defendant then claimed he had no knowledge that he wasn’t supposed to point a laser at an aircraft. It was unclear in the stipulation in what context the term “UFO” was used.
The defense agreed to the stipulation.
Judge David Rosenberg ruled the prosecution had provided enough evidence that the defendant had aimed lasers at an occupied aircraft. The arraignment date was set for February 7 at 10 am.