DENVER (LAWFUEL) – Christina Elizabeth Szele, age 35, of Woodside, New York, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver on charges of assault and interference with flight attendants. The indictment, returned late yesterday, formalizes the charges previously filed against Szele. It also adds a new charge of assault of a second JetBlue employee.
Szele is free on a $10,000 (10 percent cash) secured bond. One of the conditions of her bond is that she not travel by air. The next court date in this case is July 11, 2008, in U.S. District Court in Denver, where the defendant will be arraigned on the indictment. The court has granted a defense request that the defendant’s presence be waived for that hearing. Szele was first charged by Criminal Complaint on June 18, 2008.
According to the facts presented by a FBI Special Agent in an Affidavit in support of a Criminal Complaint, and the subsequent indictment, on June 17, 2008, Szele was a passenger aboard JetBlue Airways flight 643 in route to San Francisco, California from New York, New York. Szele allegedly started smoking a cigarette at her seat. She was confronted by a flight attendant, and in response, the defendant allegedly yelled obscenities, including racial epithets. Flight attendants attempted to restrain Szele with flex cuffs, but she broke through the cuffs and punched an attendant in the face. She also assaulted a second JetBlue employee who was asked to sit next to her during the flight.
Szele was successfully restrained after a second attempt. Because of the disturbance, the Captain of JetBlue flight 643 decided to divert the flight to Denver International Airport.
“The ‘anything-goes-on-an-airplane’ culture must end,” said U.S. Attorney Troy Eid. “Mess with a commercial flight crew and expect to face the consequences.”
“Ms. Szele left the crew with no choice but to ensure the flight and passengers remained safe,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge James Davis. “There is no excuse for making anyone feel like their safety is threatened.”
If convicted of interference with a flight crew, the defendant faces not more than 20 years in federal prison, and up to a $250,000 fine. If convicted of assault, the defendant faces not more than 6 months in prison, and up to a $10,000 fine for each of the two counts.
This case was investigated by the Denver Police Department and the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Mackey and Bob Brown.
The charges are only allegations, and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.