Coast Guard fines man $100K for aiming laser at state ferry

SEATTLE — A Freeland man has been fined $100,000 after a U.S. Coast Guard investigation concluded he intentionally pointed a laser at the pilot house of a state ferry, resulting in injuries to the vessel’s master and chief mate.

He’s already facing a felony charge in connection with the Oct. 22 incident, which targeted the ferry Tokitae while it was on a run between Mukilteo and Clinton.

Coast Guard investigating officers determined that Mark Raden, 27, was aboard the state ferry Kitsap when he allegedly pointed the laser.

Coast Guard officials are seeking civil penalties for violation of a safety and security zone as well as interference with the ferry’s safe operation. The final civil penalty amount will be determined by a Coast Guard hearing officer in Virginia.

“Firing a laser at a vessel is extremely dangerous and directly interferes with the safe movement of commercial vessels and the Coast Guard’s ability to conduct search and rescue operations,” said Capt. Joe Raymond of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound. “I encourage individuals who witness laser attacks on commercial vessels and Coast Guard small boats and aircraft to call 911.”

In addition to laser strikes on Washington State Ferries, laser strikes involving Coast Guard helicopters and rescue boats in Puget Sound have continued to increase over the last few years, officials said.

Such strikes hinder Coast Guard law enforcement and search and rescue, potentially affecting the ability to respond to a distress call or provide proper medical care of someone rescued.

They also can cause injuries.

The fine isn’t Raden’s first run-in with the law over alleged misuse of a laser.

An Island County judge has ordered him to stay away from lasers.

Raden is accused of shining an industrial laser — a model powerful enough to start fires — at a police officer in July and then the two ferry captains in October.

In both of the cases, he is charged with felonies in Island County Superior Court. Both cases are scheduled for trial in June.

Raden also was accused of a third incident last year involving a laser, but that didn’t lead to charges.

The laser that zapped the Tokitae in October was confiscated by the Washington State Patrol, which polices the state ferry system.

In forensic testing, the laser was pointed at a piece of wood.

“The piece of wood immediately began to darken and smoldered in about 3 seconds, with visible smoke coming off,” a trooper wrote. “It was obvious the laser was a hazard and could be used as a weapon.”

One of the ferry crew suffered a damaged retina and a first-degree burn to the eyelid. Both had to be seen by a doctor.

Raden claimed he was only trying to shine the laser at the water from one ferry but the light had bounced into the other ferry’s wheelhouse.

His other pending felony charge is for unlawful use of a laser in Langley.

In that case from July, he and a friend, also a 27-year-old man, reportedly were taking turns shining a laser at various objects. At some point, Raden began shining the device into people’s windows, according to the charges. When officers approached, Raden allegedly shone the light into one of the officer’s faces.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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