Fest ‘copter pilot gets 60 days in jail

Published 3:18 pm Thursday, November 13, 2008

The helicopter pilot charged with flying while intoxicated at Peanut Fest 2007 will spend 60 days in Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

Ronald John Davis Jr., 51, of Naples, Fla., was arrested on Oct. 14, 2007, after he began flying erratically with a group of customers over the festival site.

Davis, who later testified that he’d had several beers the night before, registered a blood-alcohol level of .116 in a preliminary breath test that day, according to court records. The maximum legal blood-alcohol concentration for pilots while flying is .04, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

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Davis, in a plea agreement brokered with prosecutors earlier this year, pleaded guilty in Suffolk Circuit Court to one count of felony child abuse/neglect (because children were on the helicopter) and reckless operation of an aircraft. The original charge of flying while intoxicated was dropped.

Davis, during his sentencing Thursday, said he was sorry.

“I apologize to the people I took up that day,” he said, specifying that he had not had anything to drink the morning he took the aircraft up. “I did drink the night before … but I didn’t realize I was in that bad a condition.”

Prosecutor Jeff James asked the court to sentence Davis to 60 days, the maximum he could receive under his plea agreement.

“I view what he did as a serious offense,” James said. “I know he didn’t intend to put people in danger … but Peanut Fest is an event that draws thousands of people.

“If the unthinkable had happened, there was the potential for widespread carnage.”

Davis’ defense attorney, Thaddeus Furlong, asked for leniency, saying his client would not benefit from increased jail time and that he otherwise has had a spotless flight career.

“He’s been flying aircraft for 30 years and has never had a flight accident,” Furlong said.

Under the plea agreement, Davis is prohibited from flying for five years and has to pay a $500 fine.