PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A 22-year-old Philadelphia man with no previous criminal record has been sentenced to a year and a half in federal prison for flashing a green laser light at a Philadelphia police helicopter in June 2009.

It’s unclear whether defendant Lenny Tavarez knew it was a police helicopter, or that his actions had the potential of causing a crash.

But the result was the same. Police lieutenant Anthony Ginaldi says he suffered flash blindness and lost control of the aircraft until fellow officer Chris Clemens took control as they flew over a residential neighborhood of the city.

Last month, another Pennsylvania man was sentenced for shining a laser at the same two helicopter pilots (see related story).

“It’s critical to have two qualified pilots on the aircraft at all times,” says Ginaldi. “We have the luxury of having that. If it wasn’t for Chris — like it was in the previous incident, if it wasn’t for Chris or another qualified pilot in the aircraft — this could have been an absolute catastrophe.”

The defendant has been ordered to report to federal custody in two weeks.

Reported by Tony Hanson, KYW Newsradio 1060

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