Drunken pilot loses appeal
NORRISTOWN - Pennsylvania's highest court has upheld a North Coventry drunken pilot's conviction of charges he risked a catastrophe when he piloted his plane near other aircraft and a Limerick nuclear power plant.
The state Supreme Court denied John V. Salamone's petition for an appeal, essentially upholding an April 2006 ruling by the state's Superior Court, which upheld the conviction and the 6- to 23-month jail sentence imposed against Salamone by Montgomery County Judge Bernard A. Moore.
Moore, previously claiming there was "a plethora of credible evidence" upon which to convict Salamone of risking a catastrophe in the Philadelphia region, had urged the state courts to uphold the conviction and punishment.
Salamone had filed an appeal of the Superior Court's ruling with the Supreme Court in May 2006. The Supreme Court issued the latest ruling without comment.
But in an opinion issued last year, the Superior Court judges wrote, "(Salamone's) plane flew head-on at other aircraft and came close to the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant. Contact between (Salamone's) aircraft and any of these could have caused widespread damage to the populated areas below, a nuclear power disaster, or injury or death to the other pilots and their passengers."
The state courts determined Salamone's "intoxicated condition and reckless operation" of the aircraft meet the legal elements of the causing or risking a catastrophe charge.
Following a trial in September 2004, Moore convicted Salamone, now 46, of the 900 block of Temple Road, of risking a catastrophe and reckless endangerment. In November 2004, Moore sentenced Salamone, who owns J. Vincent Concrete Contractors, Inc., of Pottstown, to six to 23 months in jail and five years' probation.
Salamone, through his lawyer, Joseph P. Green Jr., appealed the sentence to the state courts, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction for risking a catastrophe.
Citing trial testimony, Moore said Salamone's failure to gain clearance to enter restricted airspace, his failure to establish any communication with the control tower, and his flying across Philadelphia International Airport runways while jetliners were attempting to land "amounts to reckless behavior."
Most compelling, Moore said, was evidence and testimony about imminent danger certain jetliners were subjected to because of Salamone's conduct during a four-hour period on Jan. 15, 2004. Prosecutor John Gradel argued at trial that no fewer than six jetliners and commuter airplanes, each carrying 40 to 150 people, had to be diverted by air traffic controllers to avoid mid-air collisions with Salamone's single-engine Piper Cherokee.
Salamone, according to prosecutors, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent, nearly twice the current legal 0.08 percent limit to operate a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania, when he was forced to land his plane at the Pottstown-Limerick Airport shortly after 10 p.m.
As a result of Salamone's conduct in the skies, the FAA suspended and revoked Salamone's commercial pilot's license and Salamone voluntarily surrendered his FAA medical certificate.
Prosecutors had also charged Salamone with DUI in connection with the incident.
However, a district judge dismissed the DUI charge, determining there was no state law on the books regarding the operation of aircraft while intoxicated. That decision prompted area state lawmakers to draft legislation that created penalties for pilots who fly drunk.
Source - The Mercury