Chef says his 'mistake' led to BWI gun incident

September 17, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

World famous chef Paul Prudhomme didn't hesitate when he slid his briefcase into the X-ray machine at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. He didn't even think about the loaded handgun.

So imagine Mr. Prudhomme's surprise when the guard looked at the X-ray screen, then back at Mr. Prudhomme, who did for Cajun food what Bob Marley did for reggae.

"The guard looked real funny," Mr. Prudhomme said in a telephone interview recounting his arrest Tuesday morning. "I said it must be the portable telephone.

"He came over and asked me if it was my bag. I said 'yes,' and he reached in and pulled out the gun. I couldn't believe it."

Mr. Prudhomme was in Baltimore to help cook at a $200-a-plate fund-raiser for preserving the Chesapeake Bay. The proceeds of the event, held Monday night at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and attended by nearly 400 people, raised money for the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a state-managed non-profit organization.

The chef said he has two briefcases at home in New Orleans, one for traveling, the other for carrying handguns. He said he took the handgun satchel because it contained some magazines he wanted to read.

He said he removed the weapons, including a .357 magnum and a .38-caliber handgun, but forgot about the .22-caliber, five-shot revolver stuffed in a side pocket.

State police charged Mr. Prudhomme with possession of a handgun and attempting to carrying a firearm onto a plane, a felony. He was released on an unsecured $1,000 bond. No court date has been set.

It is legal for airplane passengers to take guns with them on trips, as long as they follow proper procedures, which vary from airline to airline. Mr. Prudhomme was flying on Delta Air Lines.

Delta spokesman Robert B. Harper said passengers who have guns must tell the ticket agent when they check in -- before going through security.

He said the gun must be unloaded and sealed in a container that is marked to show what is inside. The airline then stores the gun in the cargo bay for the duration of the flight and returns it to its owner in the baggage-claim area.

"Not many people attempt to bring a gun onto an airplane," Mr. Harper said. "That's pretty stupid. People know it is against the ,, law." But he said Mr. Prudhomme's explanation "sounds reasonable."

The chef said he checked the briefcase containing the gun on his flight from New Orleans to Baltimore. "It is legal to do that," he said.

Not according to Mr. Harper, who said that even in that case, the gun still must be turned in to airline personnel. Even checked baggage goes through X-ray machines. But the Delta spokesman could not explain why workers operating the X-ray machines at the New Orleans airport didn't pick up on the weapon.

Mr. Prudhomme said guns are his hobby. He said he is a member of an indoor shooting range and that he shoots target practice.

But hunting is not on Mr. Prudhomme's hobby list. "My dad always told me you should only hunt when you need food," the chef said. "I don't need any more food."

Mr. Prudhomme said he does not travel with his guns and called Tuesday's incident a mistake. "I felt that I was taking the time up of four or five officers for nothing," he said. "Everybody makes a mistake."

In a statement apologizing to the staff at BWI, the chef said, "I applaud the airport security for their efficiency in detecting the gun. They were polite but firm in explaining that I had violated a federal law.

"I regret this incident. Believe me, the only 'heat' I wanted to bring to Baltimore was my seasoning line."

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