CONWAY — CONWAY Over the past few weeks, drivers all across the Grand Strand might have seen one of five digital billboards carrying a public service announcement about the misuse of laser pointers.
The sign displays a green laser pointer shining its beam, along with the message “Misuse of laser pointers is unlawful; $11,000 federal penalty.”
Green laser complaints have been a common issue this summer, and Horry County is taking up the issue this coming week.
Mark Kruea, spokesman for the city of Myrtle Beach, said these billboards are located everywhere from North Myrtle Beach to unincorporated parts of the county.
But have the signs been effective? Kruea didn’t have any specific information, but said he hasn’t had any additional complaints about laser misuse.
The Horry County Council heard last month from concerned members of the U.S. Coast Guard about the dangers that green laser pointers have on pilots flying rescue missions, and now the governing body will consider stricter limits on who can possess the offending toys.
That ordinance, which the council will consider at Tuesday’s 6 p.m. meeting at the Horry County Government and Justice Center, came out of talks over how to remedy a problem along the Grand Strand that some say has become an epidemic.
This comes on the heels of the Coast Guard announcing that the Grand Strand is a high risk area and they will limit service.
The proposed ordinance would deem any laser pointer or device contraband if it’s greater than 1 milliwatt. Most of the lasers now sold in local beach stores are around 5 mW.
Additionally, a laser pointer would be deemed contraband if the merchant doesn’t have technical specifications showing the device is 1 milliwatt or less in power output.
The ordinance also forbids those under the age of 18 from possessing any laser pointers, and prohibits pointing the light at any person, car, airplane or other vehicle. Any person over the age of 17 who points a laser at a person, pet or vehicle would face a charge of assault and battery, or mistreatment of animals, according to the ordinance. If convicted, the offender would have to pay a $500 fine and spend up to 30 days in jail. When buying a laser, adults would also be required to sign a warning about the dangers of lasers and acknowledging that it is illegal to buy such devices for a minor.
The rule would complement similar ones already in place in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, but would apply only to properties outside of municipalities and in the county. Other governments, such as Surfside Beach, would need to pass their own ordinances for the sale of such lasers to be limited throughout Horry County.
The ordinance has to pass three readings by County Council before its formal adoption. The earliest that could take place is Oct. 2.
Horry County Councilman Marion Foxworth had some questions about the proposed ordinance he hopes can be answered.
One such question, he said, is over the ordinance’s language, specifically where the lasers are declared as weapons.
Foxworth stressed he wants to do something to limit the problems stemming from laser misuse, but he doesn’t want to overstep what local government can legally do.
“If we can, as in local government, cite something as being a weapon and then criminalized possession and sale of it, how far does that go?” Foxworth said.
He would have liked to see the proposed ordinance go through the committee structure before it was presented to County Council for first reading.
“In a committee structure, we have the opportunity to tear something apart … take a little more time with it,” he said.
No matter the County Council’s ultimate decision, dealing with laser misuse is something many say is a pertinent issue.
Recently, the Grand Strand has been described as having one of the nation’s biggest problems with green laser hits.
Paul Whitten, director of Horry County Public Safety, said in mid-August there have been 70 strikes by green lasers on aircraft landing at Myrtle Beach International Airport since the middle of May.
That’s enough for the Myrtle Beach airport to surpass Las Vegas as the No. 1 airport for laser incidents in the country, said Capt. Mike White, with the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Charleston.
In the past few months, there have been at least three cases where Coast Guard pilots were forced to land their aircraft during search and rescue operations after being hit with lasers.
Because green lasers are brighter, they reportedly have a longer range. Pilots who have been hit with them say they can be quite distracting.
There is also concern that a direct hit can cause permanent scarring on a person’s eye.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.