PITTSBURGH – A Utah man who forced a New York-bound jet to be diverted to Pittsburgh by throwing items from his carry-on onto the floor, accusing a flight attendant of being an FBI agent and kicking people pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of interfering with a flight crew.
Steven Pectol, 40, of Mapleton, told a federal judge in Pittsburgh that he's been on two medications for bipolar disorder while incarcerated at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center near Youngstown. The private jail contracts to hold prisoners with the U.S. Marshals Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jimmy Kitchen told the judge that Pectol began behaving bizarrely about an hour into the red-eye flight from Phoenix on Oct. 11.
Pectol began throwing his belongings into the aisle, talking to himself and "saying illogical things," Kitchen told the judge.
He then began pacing up and down the aisle, bumping into other passengers before saying he needed to smoke a cigarette and heading toward the cabin door, Kitchen said.
According to a criminal complaint, Pectol also told a flight attendant, "You're with the FBI and here to get me and you're a bad person."
Passengers helped flight attendants subdue Pectol until he could be placed in plastic handcuffs and his legs restrained with a seat belt used to demonstrate safety at the beginning of the flight. Pectol was "kicking, spitting at and attempting to head-butt" those subduing him, so the pilot diverted the flight to Pittsburgh International Airport for an emergency landing. Kitchen said.
The charge Pectol pleaded guilty to, interfering with a flight crew, is a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison.
Kitchen and public defender Thomas Livingston wouldn't say what sentence Pectol likely faces under federal sentencing guidelines, which take into account the seriousness of the defendant's crime and his criminal history.
Pectol and his attorney have not asked a judge to set bail, however, which suggests they expect a sentence of incarceration. That's because the time Pectol has been in jail since his arrest will be credited toward any prison term he receives when he returns for sentencing March 16.
Livingston told the judge that Pectol was hospitalized in Clarion County for two weeks after his arrest, then spent a couple of days in the county lockup before he was moved to the Ohio facility.