Today's Topic



Guilty Pilots
Are Sentenced,
Part I

Part II

Natalia J. Garland

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The two former America West pilots, convicted on one felony count each of operating an aircraft while intoxicated, were sentenced on July 22, 2005. I wrote about their arrest back in July, 2002, in my essay entitled, Is Society Outraged? Well, a Florida court judge, David Young, was apparently outraged when he sentenced the two pilots to prison.

Let's review the case. Thomas Cloyd, age 47, and Christopher Hughes, age 44, were removed from their airplane at Miami International Airport after a security screener smelled alcohol on them. The two pilots had been out drinking in a Miami bar the night before. They drank close to 22 pints of beer between them. Their bar tab totalled at $122.00. They left the bar around 5:00 a.m., and showed up late for their 10:30 a.m. flight.

Cloyd had a B.A.C. level of .091, and Hughes' was .084. The legal limit in Florida is .08. The rule of the F.A.A. (Federal Aviation Administration) is that pilots cannot drink alcohol within eight hours of a flight, or have a B.A.C. of .04 or higher.

Judge David Young described the pilots' behavior as "...absolutely wrong, outrageous, and horrendous." Hughes was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in the state prison, 2 1/2 years of house arrest (community control), and 1 year of probation. After prison, he must do 250 hours of community service to include speaking to groups. He must attend A.A. meetings 5 times per week, and pay a $5,000 fine. He must attend 1 session of a victim impact panel or the equivalent. He must write a letter of apology to his children, ages 5 and 8. He is barred from operating an aircraft for 5 years.

Cloyd was sentenced to 5 years in the state prison. The judge admonished Cloyd that he had already had "chances to get help," and that Hughes had looked up to him as a role model. Hughes even had to pay the entire bar tab after Cloyd apparently refused.

One of the difficult areas of this case was whether or not this was a victimless crime. The prosecutors, Hillah Katz and Deisy Rodriquez, argued that the airplane passengers were indeed victims even though the airplane never took off. Some passengers wrote letters describing how they felt about their experience. They carry fears every time they board an airplane. Their trust was violated and their confidence in sky safety was damaged. They are, therefore, victims.

Another difficult area was in determining whether or not the pilots could actually be convicted of flying while intoxicated if the airplane never took off. The pilots were late to the airplane, they rushed through takeoff procedures, yet took time to smoke a cigarette. Cloyd got into an argument over his trying to bring a cup of coffee aboard. The ground crew began towing the airplane to the runway. The pilots were around 5 or 6 minutes away from taking off when authorities aborted the process. The pilots' intent was to take off. There is no doubt, at that point, that they were NOT going to recognize their impaired ability, turn back, and place the 124 passengers in better hands.

Were the prosecutors right in their arguments? The jury thought so. Was the judge right in sentencing the alcoholic pilots to prison? I will discuss these questions and more in Part II. (Written 08/01/05: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2005 Natalia J. Garland