Plane ruckus only passenger 'paranoia,' says lawyer
A Guatemalan is on trial for alleged threats on an isle-bound flight
A 37-year-old man who allegedly rushed the cockpit of a Northwestern flight bound for Hawaii and threatened to kill a 3-month-old infant on board had no intention of interfering with the flight crew or harming anyone, his attorney said.
Santiago Lol Tizol, a Guatemalan who has been working in the United States legally and was headed here to work, went on trial yesterday before U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright. He is charged with interfering with a flight crew by assault and intimidation, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.
"Things that are charged in this case did not occur on this flight," said Assistant Federal Defender Matthew Winters as the trial opened. What happened on board Flight 91 on Dec. 9, 2005, stemmed from paranoia by the passengers who disregarded the decision of the chief flight attendant and decided to take matters into their own hands, he said.
"The testimony will show he got up, but had no intention of going after the baby or rushing the cockpit."
Tizol stood out because he was "small, dirty, Latino and bad-smelling," and he reacted in response to the way the flight crew was treating him, yelling in English and switching the seats of passengers seated nearby, Winters said.
Passengers who sat near Tizol are expected to testify that he wasn't acting strange or bothering anyone, he said.
But federal prosecutors say witnesses will testify that as early as one hour into the flight originating in Los Angeles, Tizol began acting erratically, disturbing the business-class passengers and disregarding the flight attendants' request to remain in coach.
One of the passengers who engaged Tizol in conversation allegedly reported to the flight attendants after hearing him say, "If they diss me one more time I'm going to kill the baby." He allegedly had a cell phone cord wrapped between his hands and was gesturing menacingly with it, said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Shipley.
Tizol, who speaks Spanish and little English, had accosted the baby's mother earlier in the flight and said things that were incomprehensible, Shipley said. He repeatedly disregarded requests by the flight attendants that he stay out of the business-class section, and kept leaving his seat. At one point he changed seats without permission to one closer to where the baby and his mother sat.
When a flight attendant decided to move the mother and baby to seats toward the back of the plane, Tizol allegedly lunged from his seat and rushed toward the cockpit, Shipley said. Tizol was tackled by at least four passengers and subdued until the flight arrived in Honolulu.