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Sun, Jun 22, 2008

Air Ambulance Pilot Arrested Before Departing From LEX Thursday

Patient, Wife Reported Smelling Alcohol On His Breath

An air ambulance pilot was arrested Thursday in Lexington, KY before a flight to transport a quadriplegic man and his wife from Blue Grass Airport to St. Louis.

The pilot, Stephen Ray Lynn, 51, was charged with violating a state law on alcohol use by pilots. He told authorities he worked for James Flying Service, based in St. Louis.

Blue Grass Airport police arrested Lynn after passenger Polly DeWitt reported smelling alcohol on his breath just before he was to fly DeWitt and husband, Kevin, to a spinal cord treatment center in St. Louis.

In a breathalyzer test administered by authorities, Lynn blew 0.007 blood-alcohol level before he was brought into the Fayette County Detention Center, said Capt. Darin Kelly, a jail spokesman.

The Kentucky state statute states it is illegal to operate or attempt to operate a civil aircraft if a person has consumed alcohol in the previous eight hours; is under the influence of alcohol; is using any substance that affects faculties in any way contrary to safety; or has a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 or higher.

Lynn told an airport public safety officer that he had had two, maybe four, drinks before 11 PM Wednesday evening. Authorities were called to the scene just before 0900 Thursday, and Lynn was arrested at 0940, according to a police report.

Officers reported Lynn was unsteady on his feet, more notably so when walking, and his eyes were bloodshot.

The events precipitating the arrest started once Kevin DeWitt already had been loaded onto the plane.

Kevin DeWitt, an Iraq combat veteran paralyzed in May in a swimming pool accident, was at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, but the Department of Veterans Affairs wanted him sent to the St. Louis treatment center, which treats veterans, Polly DeWitt said.

Mrs. DeWitt said her husband was the first to notice the pilots behavior and smell. "He said, 'Lean down and give me a hug,'" her husband told her. When she did, she said, "he said, 'Get me off this plane.'"

She reported the air ambulance had no medical supplies on board and a woman who she thought was a nurse was sitting nervously, smoking a cigarette, inside the plane when she and her husband left.

A ground ambulance took Kevin DeWitt to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Later he was moved back to Cardinal Hill.

Lynn was released from jail on a $3,000 full cash bond Thursday afternoon. He pleaded not guilty Friday in Fayette District Court and is scheduled for a pre-trial conference on July 9. Lynn is a resident of Mena, AR, where his employer, James Flying Service also has facilities.

According to state law, a person convicted of a first offense of this nature in Kentucky faces up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $200 to $500, Assistant Fayette County Attorney Lee Turpin said.

Kathleen Bergen, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration southern region, said the agency is conducting its own investigation into the matter.

FAA regulations are similar to state laws pertaining to alcohol or drug use by an aircraft crew member.

Penalties from the FAA range from a warning letter, or letter of correction, to a fine, to suspension or revocation of a pilot's license, she said.

"We have to do a thorough investigation. We have to have proof," she said. "Everyone's entitled to due process."

The VA Medical Center arranged for another air ambulance flight for Kevin DeWitt later in the day, but his wife who is also a nurse, said, "He wasn't medically stable to fly at this point." He had pneumonia and a fever, she said.

Lynn’s employer, James Flying Service, also operating as Federal Air Ambulance, has been in business for 29 years.

"We may have used this particular company once in the past, and we do not plan to use them in the future," VA Medical Center spokeswoman Desti Stimes said.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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