Friday, October 13, 2017

Sean Michael Fitzgerald: Drunken pilot sent to prison

GRAND RAPIDS, MI - A co-pilot pulled drunk from a plane at the Traverse City airport was sentenced to one year, one day in federal prison.

Sean Michael Fitzgerald, 35, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.34 percent when the pilot, Manny Ramirez, delayed the chartered flight heading to Massachusetts.

"This is simply intolerable behavior," U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said Friday, October 13th.

Fitzgerald was "lucky" he could walk with such a high alcohol level, the judge said.

He said airline customers should be able to expect pilots haven't been drinking. He hoped the sentence would deter others.

"We have zero tolerance for pilots that are drunk," Jonker said.

Fitzgerald, who lives in New Jersey, was arrested by Traverse City police around 7 a.m. on Aug. 25, 2016, at Cherry Capital Airport while he prepared for the flight. His company, Talon, fired him.

His blood-alcohol level was more than four times the limit for motorists to be presumed intoxicated.

The limit for pilots is 0.02 percent.

Fitzgerald was convicted of operating a common carrier under the influence of alcohol.

The co-pilot had a blood-alcohol level of 0343 percent before flight leaving Traverse City was grounded.

His attorney, Larry Willey, waged a novel defense: He said his client, though he was in the plane's cabin, preparing for flight, was not actually operating the aircraft.




The three passengers hadn't boarded, the plane wasn't ready to take off, and Ramirez wasn't going to let Fitzgerald fly.

The judge ordered Fitzgerald to self-surrender to prison within 10 weeks. It gives him a chance to appeal based on the definition of "operating" that Jonker provided jurors.

Airport director Kevin Klein said Fitzgerald put many at risk, and hurt the public's perception of his airport and the airline industry.

"It has long been an industry standard that pilots have the awesome responsibility to keep the public safe and not let their performance be compromised by alcohol," he said, reading a letter to the judge.

He said the effect of alcohol would have been "amplified" at high altitudes and pressurized conditions.

Fitzgerald showed "his lack of concern for the welfare of his passengers and crew on board the Bombardier Challenger aircraft and those aircraft and passengers flying at Cherry Capital Airport," Klein said.

He called the behavior "disgraceful," and said Fitzgerald's blood-alcohol level was "one of the highest for a pilot convicted of this crime, if not the highest."

Publicity about the case "had a negative impact estimated to be $4.5 million ... meaning the incident has led to negative perceptions about the operating of the airport and the safe operation of aircraft at (Cherry Capital Airport)," he said.

Fitzgerald said he wanted to apologize to everyone. He said he is getting treatment for alcohol abuse.

"It's been embarrassing. The worst 14 months of my life."

Ryan Fitzgerald is facing a 15-year felony in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

Advisory sentencing guidelines called for a prison term ranging from eight months to 14 months.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay West disputed the notion that no one was put at risk by Fitzgerald's actions.

"Trial testimony established the risk of Fitzgerald's actions to ground crew and others at the airport even if on this occasion the flight never left the ground."

He said Talon had to fly another pilot in to replace Fitzgerald at significant cost, while its customers were delayed three hours.

The judge ordered Fitzgerald to pay $5,500 in fines. He will be on supervised release for three years. During that time, he fly a plane or drive any type of vehicle for hire.

He said Fitzgerald is an "intelligent, well-spoken, still-young man" who can turn his life around.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.mlive.com

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