More than two months after capturing the attention of the world with his wild escape out of a JetBlue airliner in August, former flight attendant Steven Slater took the high road Tuesday in Queens Criminal Court.
Slater, 38, of Rockaway, entered a conditional guilty plea on criminal mischief charges for escaping the plane by activating an emergency chute after it landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport Aug. 9 and fleeing the scene.
As part of his plea deal, the former flight attendant must take part in a special mental health program for at least 12 months and, if he is not arrested during that period, his plea will be vacated, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
“At the end of the day, I am a grown-up and I must take responsibility for my actions,” Slater said outside court.
In addition, he must pay JetBlue, which fired him last month, restitution of $10,000 for all the damages he caused when he opened the chute.
Slater was nonchalant during his hearing and even joked around with court officers before Queens Supreme Court Justice Marcia Hirsch accepted the plea. Following the hearing, he said he was content that he was able to settle the case and avoid serving prison time.
The exact details of what set off Slater have been disputed by his attorneys and prosecutors, but what is known is that sometime during the flight from Pittsburgh he got into a verbal argument with a passenger. Slater claimed that during the fight a piece of luggage hit him in the head, but investigators could not confirm if that really happened.
The escapade turned Slater into an Internet phenomenon and he even received an offer for a reality TV show. The flight attendant told reporters he was surprised by the attention he received.
Brown said his team interviewed all the passengers and they determined the incident was caused by something more than just a bad day. Slater has also been interviewed by mental health experts, who said he had an undisclosed mental health disorder and needed help.
“It became increasingly clear to me ... the defendant’s actions were the result of mental health or substance abuse issues,” Brown said.
The DA was quick to criticize Slater’s escape and cautioned that his deployment of the emergency chute could have been dangerous for those at JFK.
“It could have resulted in serious injuries or perhaps even death to the passengers or the workers on the tarmac below,” he said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2010 Community News Group
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