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Mon, Jun 06, 2005

It's Up To The Jury Now

Testimony Ends In Trial Of Two AmWest Pilots Accused Of Trying To Fly Drunk

In the end, attorneys for former America West pilot Thomas Cloyd and his copilot, Christopher Hughes, called just one witness: the operator of a tug that pulled them from the gate before their Airbus A319 was stopped and boarded by law officers.

When the law left the aircraft, they had Cloyd and Hughes in tow, suspecting both pilots of trying to fly drunk.

It happened July 1st, 2002, after what prosecutors paint as a long night of drinking by Cloyd and Hughes at a sports bar in Miami. Neither pilot denies the binge. Neither denies he was probably under the influence when Franklin Tejada used his tug to push their A319 from the gate.

So what's the beef? It's a unique defense -- Cloyd and Hughes maintain they weren't in control of the aircraft when they were arrested and therefore can't be convicted of operating the aircraft while under the influence of alcohol.

Tejada told the Miami federal jury Monday that he clearly remembers the engines were shut down and the nosewheel steering mechanism was disengaged as he towed the aircraft from parking.

"Is the plane moving itself?" asked defense lawyer Daniel Foodmanm quoted by the Associated Press.

"No," Tejada said. "I was the one pushing the plane."

Score one for the defense.

But under cross-examination, Tejada admitted one important thing.

"You don't do anything unless it's under the command of the pilot, correct?" asked prosecutor Hillah Katz, also quoted by AP.

"Yes," Tejada replied.

So much for racking up points for the defense.

The case now goes to the jury, which has already heard about the long night of drinking. Members also heard a toxicologist testify both men had blood-alcohol levels above Florida's 0.08 legal limit after they were removed from the flight.

Both men were fired from America West after the incident. Both lost their commercial pilots' licenses. If convicted, both men could face up to five years in federal prison.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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