For anyone who thought their elementary school teachers were just being silly when they admonished their students not to play with lasers, this cautionary tale is for you. As of late December, 2016, Mark Raden of Whidbey Island has been fined $9,500 for intentionally shining a laser into the eyes of a Washington State Ferry captain on October 22, 2015. Raden, who pled guilty to the crime and whose motives are unclear, was sentenced by the Island County Superior Court to 15 days in jail and $3,740.89 to be paid in recompense to the Master and Chief Mate of the ferry in question. He will also be required to contribute 240 hours of community service and will be put on 24 months of probation.
In case you’re wondering how that thing we use to point at key features during a work presentation could inflict any real damage, keep in mind that this wasn’t one of those lasers. This was a blue, high-powered laser, advertised as being able to set blocks of wood on fire after a few seconds. The laser used is about a thousand times stronger than your unremarkable office meeting pointer. Not only can one of these lasers cause permanent damage to a ferry captain’s eyes, but a ferry underway with a blinded captain is obviously a risk to everyone on the water. Like the beam from a lighthouse, these lasers can shoot out over the Puget Sound waterfront, potentially hitting vessels, helicopters, and other aircraft. Not only could these beams strike a pilot directly in the eyes, they can also interact with the reflective surfaces of a boat to interfere with the pilot’s ability to navigate at night.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that while the idea of laser battles might seem like an epic fight straight out of mainstream science fiction, it’s safer to leave such scenes to the characters of Star Wars and keep your high-powered lasers at home.