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Pilots get prison time for drinking before flight

MIAMI – Two former America West pilots appeared dumbfounded Thursday when a Miami-Dade judge sentenced them to prison for operating an aircraft while drunk.

“You could have crashed into homes or neighborhoods,” Circuit Court Judge David Young said. “This crime had dramatic proportions.”

Young sentenced Thomas Cloyd, of Peoria, Ariz., to five years in prison, the maximum allowed by law. He sentenced Christopher Hughes, of Leander, Texas, to 2½ years in state prison, 1½ years of community control and one year of probation.

Miami-Dade police arrested Cloyd and Hughes after ordering a tow truck operator to return their Phoenix-bound jet to its gate at Miami International Airport on July 1, 2002.

Prosecutors said Cloyd and Huges where intoxicated when they climbed into the cockpit that morning, following a night of heavy drinking. Hours after their arrest, both pilots had a blood alcohol level higher than Florida’s legal limit of .08. Afterward, America West fired the two men, and both lost their commercial pilot’s licenses.

During their trial, witnesses testified that Cloyd and Hughes ran up a $122 bar tab, drinking seven 34-ounce and seven 16-ounce Sierra Nevada beers hours before their scheduled departure time.

“The first thing I could think of, Mr. Cloyd and Mr. Hughes is: ‘What were you thinking?’ ” Young said Thursday. “Less than a year after 9/11, people had enough stress in their lives. Never would they think that their pilots could be impaired.”