Attendant who slid on chute to fame pleads guilty

Oct 19 2010 - 1:40pm

NEW YORK -- The JetBlue flight attendant whose job-quitting meltdown landed him in court avoided jail time in a plea deal Tuesday that requires him to undergo counseling and treatment for a least a year.

Steven Slater spoke politely and calmly as he entered a guilty plea to a charge of second-degree attempted criminal mischief, a felony, and a lesser charge of fourth-degree attempted criminal mischief.

He admitted he pulled the emergency chute Aug. 9 on a JetBlue flight from Pittsburgh after it landed at Kennedy International Airport. Slater went on the public-address system, swore at a passenger who he claimed treated him rudely, grabbed a beer and slid onto the tarmac.

"At the end of the day, I'm a grown-up and I must take responsibility for my actions," Slater said outside court. He thanked his attorney, prosecutors, his mother and his partner, and said the public interest in his case had surprised him.

Under the terms of the deal, Slater must undergo at least a year of counseling and substance-abuse treatment. If he completes the program to the judge's satisfaction, the top charge will dismissed, the misdemeanor will remain and he will be sentenced to a year of probation.

He must check in with the court periodically and could also have to pay restitution to JetBlue. If he does not fulfill the requirements, he will get one to three years in jail.

Slater's dramatic and unusual departure made him a cult hero to some. He was a topic on TV shows, on the front pages of newspapers and many cheered him for standing up to the inhospitable world of airline travel and for quitting his job so spectacularly.

His fame has waned, but it's not gone: In a homage to Slater this Halloween, several retailers are selling their own versions of the disgruntled airline employee or the angry steward.

"It's a blue steward shirt with a light blue tie and it comes with a Band-Aid for your forehead," Todd Kenig, chairman of Ricky's NYC, told the AP last week.

JetBlue Airways Corp. suspended Slater, and he resigned from the company last week, leaving him unemployed. He had worked at JetBlue for about three years, though he spent nearly two decades in the airline industry.

JetBlue told employees in a memo that press coverage was not taking into account how much harm can be caused by emergency slides, which are deployed with a potentially deadly amount of force.

District Attorney Richard Brown scolded Slater -- and the public -- for not taking his actions more seriously, noting it cost $25,000 to fix the slide and that the plane had to be taken out of service afterward, causing flight delays.

Slater's attorney, Daniel J. Horwitz, said his client took the matter very seriously. He said Slater had been under tremendous pressure because of his terminally ill mother, recently deceased father, and health problems of his own, adding that his client is HIV positive.

Slater was upbeat and smiley outside court, dressed in a gray suit, blue shirt and gold tie.

"I am very grateful to the court for making these arrangements," said Slater, who did not answer questions.

Slater was initially charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing. He underwent a mental health evaluation and it was determined he was fit for the alternative sentencing program. His case was transferred to Mental Health Court, a special division of state justice where defendants are monitored and treated instead of immediately jailed.

 

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