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Delta Pilot Gets 10 Months in Jail for Coming to Work Under the Influence

by Staff

A Delta Air Lines pilot was sentenced on Tuesday to 10 months in jail after pleading guilty this month to showing up for work with a half-empty bottle of Jägermeister in his luggage and a blood alcohol level more than two times the aviation limit, the authorities said.

The pilot, Lawrence B. Russell Jr., 63, of Fulton County, Ga., was scheduled to fly a Boeing 767 from Edinburgh International Airport to Kennedy International Airport in New York City on the morning of June 16, according to a statement from the Judiciary of Scotland.

Mr. Russell arrived at baggage control 80 minutes before departure wearing his pilot’s uniform and lanyard, but his bag was rejected by the X-ray scanner when it was found to contain liquid, according to the statement. Inside were two bottles of the German digestif Jägermeister, one of which was opened and “just under half full,” Sheriff Alison Stirling, who sentenced Mr. Russell, said Tuesday in Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Mr. Russell, who acknowledged drinking the previous evening, failed a breath test and was arrested, Sheriff Stirling said. A blood test showed he had “not less than” 49 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood, she added. The limit for pilots is 20 milligrams, and the limit for car drivers in Scotland is 50 milligrams or .05 percent. That limit in the United States is .08 percent. Mr. Russell was charged that day, and according to the statement, responded, “I’m terrified.”

Neither Mr. Russell nor his lawyer could be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday evening. Public records show he was charged in 1985 with driving under the influence but was released on probation. He was diagnosed with severe alcohol use disorder, but was in remission after successfully completing a recovery program in Georgia, Sheriff Stirling said.

Mr. Russell, who has been married for 35 years and has two sons, lost his job after his arrest in June and was receiving half his salary while on long-term disability leave, she added. Sheriff Sterling said that Mr. Russell planned to apply for a new medical certificate after completing his sentence with the expectation that, if it was granted, he would be reinstated in his former role as a pilot. “Your employer has been very supportive,” she said.

Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta Air Lines, said in an email that the company “was aware of this incident and removed the pilot from service while conducting a thorough investigation in coordination with Scottish authorities.” He would not provide further information about whether Delta had been aware of Mr. Russell’s record of driving under the influence or say whether Delta would rehire him.

Under federal law, pilots must wait up to one year after being convicted of a drug or alcohol offense to apply for a Federal Aviation Administration license or other certificate.

Sheriff Stirling said that in determining the length of Mr. Russell’s sentence, she had taken into account his remorse and the fact that he had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. But she noted that “custody is the only appropriate disposal, having regard to the serious nature of your offending.”

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