California man pleads guilty in air assault case

Posted: Sunday, September 07, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A California man pleaded guilty to an assault charge after a drunken outburst on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Anchorage.

James Edwin Burbach Jr., 41, of Livermore, Calif., was initially charged Aug. 29 with a felony count of interfering with a flight crew and was held in jail for a night. He pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor of simple assault.

According to court documents, a flight attendant on an Alaska Airlines flight Aug. 28 tripped during turbulence on the descent into Anchorage and fell into Burbach, without realizing what had occurred.

Burbach, who by then had consumed six vodka drinks, got up and followed the attendant to the rear of the plane. Investigators said Burbach approached the attendant who was sitting in a jump seat, held down his shoulders, and yelled obscenities at him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said the felony charge was reduced because Burbach had no prior record and his eruption wasn't nearly as serious as other cases involving flight crews and drunken passengers.

Burbach, who was coming to Alaska for a hunting and fishing vacation, said in court that he believed the alcohol affected his behavior.

''It was the beginning of a vacation, and I guess I started too fast too early,'' he told the judge.

Burbach said he was talking to a friend across the aisle when the flight attendant fell into him and didn't apologize. He said he went to the rear of the plane and asked the attendant if he realized he fell on him. The attendant responded that he thought Burbach was a chair, Burbach said.

Burbach denied pinning the attendant in the seat with the intention of hurting or scaring him. He said he went to the back of the plane to ask the flight attendant if he understood what happened.

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