GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A charter airline co-pilot suspected of being drunk when he was pulled off a plane in Traverse City last month is facing federal charges that could put him in prison for up to 15 years.
Sean Michael Fitzgerald had a blood alcohol level of .31 percent when he was pulled from a flight at Cherry Capital Airport in Grand Traverse County on Aug. 25, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court Tuesday.
His blood alcohol level was nearly four times the legal threshold for driving and nearly 15 times higher than the threshold for flying.
Fitzgerald, 35, who lives in Boca Raton, Florida, has a pretrial conference scheduled for Thursday in Traverse City District Court. He’s charged with a misdemeanor offense of aircraft crew member with a blood alcohol content of .02 or more.
The more serious federal offense is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids. It carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Fitzgerald was preparing to help fly the commuter plane with about a dozen passengers from Traverse City to Massachusetts when the pilot noticed that Fitzgerald smelled of alcohol and his speech was slurred, court records show.
He arrived at the airport about 7 a.m. and was escorted to the waiting plane in a golf cart. He and the pilot began conducting pre-flight procedures when the pilot noticed that Fitzgerald “smelled of intoxicants and had slurred speech,’’ FBI agent Larry Stewart wrote in a criminal complaint.
Capt. Manny Ramirez called airline officials in Farmingdale, New York who in turn contacted Traverse City police and asked that a breath test be given to Fitzgerald, court records show.
Fitzgerald told a Traverse City police officer “he was not under the influence of alcohol and had not consumed alcohol since having two beers with lunch the day prior,’’ Stewart wrote in the criminal complaint.
The officer also detected a strong odor of intoxicants coming from Fitzgerald, Stewart wrote. He was directed to gather his personal belonging and exit the plane. Talon Air said Fitzgerald was fired after the incident.
(© 2016 WZZM)