NEW YORK – A man who took five French tourists on a police chase in an illegal airport shuttle van pleaded guilty Thursday to felony assault in exchange for a 90-day jail term.
Ian McFarlane could've faced seven years in prison had he been convicted at trial. McFarlane, who is not a U.S. citizen, could be deported to his native Jamaica after he serves his sentence.
Neither he nor his attorney spoke publicly afterward.
McFarlane and driver Khaalif Preacher directed the tourists to their unlicensed van as they looked for transportation to Manhattan outside Kennedy Airport in June 2009.
A plainclothes officer, who said he recognized McFarlane from previous arrests for corralling passengers into unlicensed vehicles, tried to stop the van from pulling off by reaching into the van and grabbing for the keys. The officer was injured as Preacher sped away, prosecutors said. McFarlane was sitting in the front seat.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police chased the van, which snaked for about seven miles through residential streets and struck a gate, a truck and a stop sign near a U.S. Postal Service facility in Brooklyn.
Police arrested the men shortly after they tried to jump out of the van while it was still moving.
One tourist, Claudie Mamane, also tried to jump from the moving van, injuring her arm. The other passengers — Mamane's daughter, another couple and their daughter — were not injured. The families had taken the same flight from Paris.
New York City officials showered them with museum passes and Broadway show tickets.
Preacher pleaded guilty in October 2009 to felony reckless endangerment. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 11 and McFarlane's for Jan. 12.
Months after the chase, a new state law increased penalties for unlicensed taxi drivers to a maximum of 90 days in jail and fines as high as $1,250. Previously, violations usually resulted in the equivalent of a traffic ticket.
Last November, around the start of the holiday travel season, police arrested 18 drivers at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports during an enforcement sweep to crack down on unlicensed taxi drivers.