Widow sues American Airlines over baggage handler’s bomb threat accusation: 'She lied through her teeth'

A widow is suing American Airlines, claiming a baggage handler made false accusations against her husband that led to his arrest.

Debbie Cardarelli filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, seeking more than $1 million in damages and punitive charges after an incident in March 2017 led to her husband’s arrest.

Debbie was flying home to Rochester, N.Y., with her husband, Richard S. Cardarelli, from a vacation in Miami, Fla., The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The couple had a layover in Philadelphia and, when they began to board the plane for the last leg of their trip, they were informed that the fully-booked flight could not accommodate anymore carry-on bags.


Richard turned over his bag to American Airlines baggage handler Tawanda Ward and proceeded down to board. Almost immediately, though, Richard remembered his eyedrops were still in the bag and turned around to retrieve them.

Richard, who needed the drops with him because of a corneal transplant he had in 1980, asked Ward to get them out of his suitcase.

The American Airlines baggage handler claimed Richard had threatened to blow up the plane if he did not get his bag.

The American Airlines baggage handler claimed Richard had threatened to blow up the plane if he did not get his bag. (iStock)

Ward, who had not yet moved the bag from where Richard had handed it to her, continually refused to let him access it, citing security policy.

"I'm sorry, sir, but now that you've handed me the bag, you can't have the bag back," Ward said, Debbie recalled to The Washington Post.

According to the Inquirer, Richard involved two managers from the help desk in the terminal and was able to retrieve his eyedrops.

Richard and Debbie took their seats and waited to take off. Twenty minutes later, two Philadelphia cops approached the couple and asked Richard to come with them.


Debbie told the Inquirer she thought it was about Ward’s behavior, who the couple had been watching from the plane window. Debbie alleged that Ward was visibly angry on the tarmac.

“I thought, ‘That woman must be in big trouble!’” Debbie said.

Though that did not end up being the reason – instead, Debbie learned Ward had claimed that Richard made a bomb threat when she declined him access to his luggage.

In her police report, Ward said Richard allegedly told her, “If I don’t get my bag back, it’s going to blow up!” the Inquirer reported.

Richard was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction and making terrorist threats about a bomb. All passengers were forced to deplane while authorities investigated.

"It was a nightmare," Debbie Cardarelli said in an interview with The Washington Post.

"She lied through her teeth," Debbie said. "It's so ridiculous what I'm going through just because someone lied."

“It breaks my heart that his last birthday on the face of this earth was spent in jail."

— Debbie Cardarelli

Richard, who died in January from pancreatic cancer, spent the night in jail and was released the next day – his 59th birthday – after Debbie posted 20 percent of the $25,000 bail, the Inquirer reported.

“It breaks my heart that his last birthday on the face of this earth was spent in jail,” Debbie said.


Richard eventually was acquitted of all criminal charges after Ward’s claims were found not credible.

But even getting to that part took a long time, as American Airlines delayed the court date by refusing to respond to legal subpoenas and barring Richard at the last minute from taking an American Airlines flight from Rochester to Philadelphia for a legal proceeding, the lawsuit claims.

American Airlines has refused Fox News’ request for comment.

Debbie is hoping to hold the airline accountable for its actions, stating that the case cost the couple over $20,000 in legal fees and expenses and that she had to go to therapy after the incident.