Elected Official’s Vision Off After Laser Pointer Incident

OCEAN CITY — Laser
pointers have made their way back into the public eye after a City Council
member claims she had her eyes damaged by one last week.

Councilwoman Margaret
Pillas, who also owns a Boardwalk store, said a young boy hit her in the eye
with a beam from a green laser pointer that he had carried inside her store
last Saturday, and she says she’s been struggling to see things clearly since.

“It’s like trying to look
through a piece of cellophane,” said Pillas on Wednesday. “Things have been
blurry, almost like there’s a haze around everything. My doctor said it will be
like that on and off for several months.”

Pillas described the
youth armed with a laser pointer as a “10-12 year old boy” who had come into
her store with his mother and grandmother. She said she saw the green light
flickering near her on the wall by the cash register, and when she turned
around again, it hit her square in the eyes.

“It was obvious that he
did it on purpose, and I asked the folks to leave the store after they claimed
it was an accident,” said Pillas. “I felt the impact of the light on my eyes,
and I haven’t been able to see properly since, accident or not. Kids today
aren’t being taught to do the right thing, and life is just a game to them.
They need to be respectful of other people’s personal space.”

Ocean City Police
Department (OCPD) officials said this week that there has been a widespread
proliferation of green laser pointers being sold and carried on the Boardwalk
that has potentially surpassed the proliferation of red laser pointers back in
1998, which prompted the Mayor and City Council to pass an emergency ordinance
that would make it unlawful to harass or even point a laser pointer at another
person.

As a result of the
heightened interest and rise in complaints, the OCPD issued a press release
this week reiterating the ramifications if one is found guilty of harassment
with a laser pointer as per Maryland State Law.

“Maryland state law
restricts individuals from knowingly using a laser pointer to illuminate
another in a public place in a matter that harasses or endangers another. The
Ocean City Police Department is continuing to enforce laser pointer violations.
If a person is found to be using a laser pointer in a harassing manner, they
are potentially subject to a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to 30
days or both,” the release said.

The released also
touched on the dangers associated with the laser pointers.

“The Ocean City Police
Department warns citizens of the danger that can accompany laser pointers.
Hazards are most likely to affect the eye, including flash blindness, damage to
the retina and an after image or glare. The Ocean City Police Department
reminds citizens laser pointers are not toys and should be used with adequate
care and supervision,” the release said.

While in another
capacity with the department, Police Chief Bernadette DiPino testified in
Annapolis in 1999 about the merits of creating legislation that would instill
penalties for misuse of laser pointers, and her testimony was credited as one
of the deciding factors in the bill being passed into law.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres
advised the council that the local and state law were potentially as far as
they could go regarding this summer’s rise in laser pointer related incidents,
noting that the legal usages of the devices were enough to stop a total ban in
the resort.

“These laser pointers
are used in boardrooms and offices all over the country, and because there is a
legal use for them, we can’t just ban the sale of them outright in Ocean City,”
said Ayres.

Pillas urged the public
to come forward and speak out if they fall victim to harassment by a laser
pointer.

“At this point, we need
more people to complain, and more people to come forward,” said Pillas. “That,
and we need more research done as to how damaging these lasers can be on a
person’s eyes. All I can do is try to bring this issue to the forefront and
hope that the six other people on the council will support me on this.”

Pillas said that she has
gone as far to ban all laser pointers from being brought into her Boardwalk
store, and she says that she hopes that other stores on the Boardwalk will
follow suit.

“I wish that merchants
would just stop carrying them,” she said, “but they are everywhere now, and
it’s getting out of control. It’s one thing to have freedoms, but it’s another
thing entirely not to take responsibility for those freedoms.”

 

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