Bomb remark on plane brings jail time


Robert H. Karcher, a heavy equipment operator who splits his time between an Indiana job and his family in Glen Burnie, was ordered yesterday to spend three weekends in the Anne Arundel County jail for making a false bomb threat while waiting to leave a US Airways plane at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Part of his two years' probation includes staying off US Airways and paying a $450 fine.

"US Airways doesn't want his business, and considering he was a frequent flier, that's a lot of business," said prosecutor Laura M. Skudrna, who was pleased with the sentence.

Airline officials said they prefer to forgo the repeat travel of disruptive passengers.

Skudrna told Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner that Karcher could have caused a panic with the remark, which Karcher's lawyer depicted as a stupid comment from his intoxicated client. Had Karcher made his bomb quip while the plane was in the air, an emergency landing and evacuation would have ensued.

But the plane from Chicago was on the ground. While Karcher's remark impressed law enforcement officials, it caused barely a ripple among fellow passengers waiting to get off. When he was pulled aside and questioned, Karcher didn't know why.

Police and explosive-sniffing dogs swept the empty plane and found nothing.

Karcher, who told the judge he was sorry and "certainly learned a lesson," referred comment to his lawyer, T. Joseph Touhey. Touhey said that what Karcher meant as a harmless remark about airline service assumed a life of its own.

"He simply was a little drunk and a little stupid and did something unwise," said Touhey, who unsuccessfully sought probation before judgment for his client. If Karcher completes his probation, Touhey said he will ask to have the conviction stricken.

He said Karcher had two minor convictions long ago that were tied to drinking. Karcher has worked on dealing with his alcohol problem, Touhey said.

"Here's someone who's had too much to drink, jokingly says something about a bomb, two people hear it and something is said to the pilot," Touhey said. "That shows the degree of seriousness with which they take it."

Exactly what Karcher, 37, said while waiting to get off the plane Oct. 8 remained in dispute.

At a trial last month, Karcher recalled joking that "if they thought there was bomb on here, we'd get off this plane a lot faster." But two passengers, who described him as being loud during the flight, remembered him loudly say a bomb was on the plane and everyone should get off.

Karcher was convicted on charges of making a false threat, being disorderly and intoxicated, and resisting arrest.

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