Aaron Cope, United Express pilot, indicted for flying drunk -- and not even on St. Patrick's Day

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:


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.

Aaron Cope Indictment

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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