In late 2009, United pilot Erwin Washington was arrested for flying drunk -- and if this seemed like an isolated incident then, it doesn't now. That's because United Express' Aaron Cope has just been indicted for doing likewise a month after Washington.
Based in Lakewood, Washington got his fifteen minutes of unwanted fame in early November 2009 for a flight to London, while Cope, who's from Virginia, is being charged in relation to a jaunt from Austin to Denver on December 8 of that same year.
No explanation in the Cope indictment or a U.S. Attorney's release on view below about why it's taken more than a year for the hammer to come down. But come down it has: Cope could be sentenced to as much as fifteen years behind bars.
Earlier today, Denver Police Department spokesman Sonny Jackson decried drinking and driving on St. Patrick's Day. As for drinking and flying, well, let's hope it's not the United way.
U.S. Attorney's Office release:
UNITED EXPRESS PILOT INDICTED FOR OPERATION OF AN AIRCRAFT UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL
DENVER -- Aaron Jason Cope, age 32, of Norfolk, Virginia, was indicted by a federal grand jury late yesterday on one count of operation of a common carrier under the influence of alcohol, United States Attorney John Walsh and U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General Special Agent in Charge Max Smith announced today. Department of Transportation Inspector General Special Agents are in the process of locating Cope.
According to the indictment, on December 8, 2009, Cope unlawfully operated and directed the operation of an commercial aircraft while under the influence of alcohol. Cope was second in command, meaning he was the co-pilot and first officer, on United Express Flight #7687, operated by Shuttle America, Inc. The flight went from Austin, Texas, to Denver, Colorado.
"The message this case sends is simple, pilots who drink and fly will be prosecuted and face incarceration," said U.S. Attorney John Walsh.
Max Smith, Special Agent in Charge of the Fort Worth Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General, said: "The Inspector General and DOT take aviation safety very seriously. Those who have been granted the privilege of being issued a commercial pilot's license have an obligation to the public they serve and those who violate the public trust will be dealt with appropriately under the law."
If convicted, Cope faces not more than 15 years imprisonment, and up to a $250,000 fine.
This case is being investigated by the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General, and the FAA, with full cooperation by Shuttle America.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Mackey and Mark Pestal.
These charges are only allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
More from our News archive: "Sergei Berejnoi's alleged fake bomb claim makes Top 5 list of freakiest CO airport passengers."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.