Judge finds man guilty of false bomb threat

Sentencing July 19 for airline passenger from Glen Burnie

May 05, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Robert H. Karcher remembered waiting to leave a US Airways plane at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and joking to a man behind him that "if they thought there was a bomb on here, we'd get off this plane a lot faster."

What two passengers remembered him loudly saying was that "there is a bomb" and everybody should get off.

Whatever he said did not lead to a stampede. But the 37-year-old Glen Burnie man's remarks made quite an impression on law enforcement officials, who take comments about bombs seriously.

Yesterday, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner convicted Karcher of making a false bomb threat -- a felony with a 10-year maximum sentence -- and being disorderly, intoxicated and resisting arrest.

He is scheduled to be sentenced July 19. Assistant State's Attorney Laura M. Skudrna said she expects state guidelines will indicate probation for a man with no criminal past.

Karcher's lawyer said he will seek probation before judgment for a man he views as snared in a bureaucratic mess that got out of hand.

"This man is guilty of stupidity with a capital `S,' but nothing more," T. Joseph Touhey told the judge.

Karcher is "a working stiff who joins the rest of America in being disappointed with plane service," he said later.

Karcher, a heavy-equipment operator working in Indiana, said he was somewhat intoxicated when he boarded the plane in Chicago on the evening of Oct. 8.

When the plane landed at BWI, it seemed to him that nothing was happening to empty the plane, and that's when he made the remark to another passenger, he testified.

"We were just joking back and forth," he said.

Bomb-sniffing dogs swept the plane after everyone left. No bomb was found.

Touhey argued that passengers were not convinced Karcher made a threat, noting that a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent on the plane heard a bomb threat -- though he did not move to apprehend Karcher. So did another passenger, who told attendants.

When Karcher left the plane, he was detained -- though he said he did not know why -- and was questioned by an airport security officer and an FBI agent, and was arrested.

Witnesses gave another version of Karcher's behavior. The DEA agent, David Counter, and another passenger testified that Karcher was agitated. An officer with the Maryland Transportation Authority Police testified that Karcher resisted arrest.

Skudrna said the threat could have caused havoc and argued that Karcher might have been too intoxicated to correctly recall what he said.

Karcher may not be flying US Airways again.

"We did ask for a no-contact order," an airline spokesman said. "We take these kinds of disruptive passengers seriously. We really prefer that they not fly with us again."

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