Saturday, July 23, 2005

Judge gives drunk pilots prison terms

Two America West pilots who were drunk in the cockpit at Miami International Airport were sentenced to prison terms of five and 2 ½ years.
The captain of an America West flight who was pulled from the cockpit and arrested after an all-night drinking binge in Coconut Grove must serve five years in prison, and his co-pilot must go to prison for 2 ½ years, a Miami-Dade judge ruled Thursday.
Circuit Judge David Young said Capt. Thomas Cloyd and First Officer Christopher Hughes acted ''outrageously'' when they took control of America West Flight 566 carrying 117 passengers on the morning of July 1, 2002. Less than six hours earlier, they walked out of Mr. Moe's bar with ''to-go'' cups of beer -- the last items on a $122 bar tab.
''What were you thinking of?'' Young said. ``It's inconceivable to me that two individuals who had careers in the airline industry could act so irresponsibly.''
Last month, a jury convicted both pilots of operating an aircraft while drunk, a felony. Breath tests showed both men had alcohol levels over the legal limit -- Cloyd a .09, Hughes a .08 -- more than two hours after they were scheduled to fly the Airbus A319 jet from Miami to Phoenix.
Cloyd and Hughes ordered 14 beers at Mr. Moe's after first drinking champagne at their hotel, then drinking a bottle of wine at dinner with two flight attendants, prosecutors said.
The pilots were tripped up at Miami International Airport by post-Sept. 11 security rules. Cloyd objected when he wasn't allowed to walk through security with his coffee, and others smelled alcohol on Hughes.
''You dump the Starbucks coffee, we wouldn't be here,'' the judge told Cloyd.
While the judge scolded both men, he was particularly hard on Cloyd, a 12-year veteran of the airline who has had three alcohol-related arrests since 1986. Cloyd's five-year sentence was the maximum allowed by law -- and more than prosecutors requested.
The judge also said he was galled by how Cloyd treated Hughes, who looked up to the older pilot. ''I cannot believe you made Mr. Hughes pay for that bar tab,'' the judge said.
Hughes' 2 ½-year sentence was less than the three years prosecutors had requested. Hughes also must serve 2 ½ years of probation when released.
''We felt that the sentences were just,'' Assistant State Attorney Hillah Katz said.
Cloyd's attorney, Daniel Foodman, said his client offered to spend as much as 18 months in prison during plea negotiations with prosecutors. But Katz said the judge refused to accept any plea deal without first hearing all the evidence to help determine his sentence.
Both Cloyd and Hughes are admitted alcoholics who checked themselves into rehab centers after their arrests, and each has attended a special Alcoholics Anonymous program for pilots.
''People do make mistakes in life, and alcohol has clearly been a problem in his life,'' Foodman said of Cloyd. ``He took responsibility immediately by recognizing the problem and going to rehab.''
Hughes' wife, Robbin, appealed for leniency for the sake of the couple's two children. ``You are not only sentencing my husband, but my children and me as well.''
Cloyd, 47, of Peoria, Ariz., and Hughes, 44, of Leander, Texas, were fired from the airline after their arrest, and both were stripped of their commercial pilot licenses.
During the three-week trial, lawyers for Cloyd and Hughes argued that the pilots were not technically in control of the airliner because it was still attached to a tow vehicle when stopped by police.
But Katz called the defense tactic ``an insult to all the people in the airline. It was an insult to the passengers.''
While defense lawyers stressed that no one was injured in the incident, Judge Young was unmoved.
''This crime had dramatic proportions,'' the judge said.


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