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Woman Gets 15 Months in Prison for Punching Flight Attendant in the Face

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A California woman who repeatedly punched a Southwest Airlines flight attendant last year, bloodying her face and chipping three of her teeth, was sentenced on Friday to 15 months in federal prison, prosecutors said.

The woman, Vyvianna M. Quinonez, 29, of Sacramento, will also have to pay nearly $26,000 in restitution and a $7,500 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. A video of the attack, which occurred in May 2021, was widely viewed on social media.

Judge Todd W. Robinson of United States District Court also ordered Ms. Quinonez to be on supervised release for three years after completing her sentence, during which she will be barred from flying on any commercial aircraft.

The assault came amid a surge of unruly and violent behavior by passengers who shoved, struck and yelled at flight attendants. Within days of the attack, two major airlines, American and Southwest, postponed plans to begin serving alcohol again on flights, in an effort to stop the behavior. Both airlines have since resumed alcohol sales.

“Violence on aircraft endangers the lives of all onboard,” Randy Grossman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, said in a statement on Friday. “Attacks on flight crew members, who perform vital jobs to ensure passenger safety, will not be tolerated.”

A lawyer for Ms. Quinonez, who pleaded guilty in December in connection with the assault, could not immediately be reached for comment late Friday.

In a letter filed with the court on May 20, Ms. Quinonez apologized for assaulting the flight attendant. She said she had been depressed and humiliated because of the negative attention. The experience, she said, “changed me profoundly.”

On May 23, 2021, near the end of a flight from Sacramento to San Diego, a flight attendant asked Ms. Quinonez to buckle her seatbelt, put up her tray table and “wear her face mask properly,” prosecutors said.

Ms. Quinonez used her phone to film the flight attendant and pushed the woman, prosecutors said. The attack escalated from there, as captured on video by another passenger.

Ms. Quinonez, who was sitting in an aisle seat, stood up and punched the attendant in the face multiple times, according to the video. She also grabbed her hair before the woman was able to move back up the aisle. Several passengers grabbed at Ms. Quinonez’s clothes to try to stop her.

Prosecutors said the flight attendant, who was not named in court documents, was taken to a hospital with injuries that included a swollen eye, a bruised arm and a cut under her eye that had to be stitched. They said she also had three chipped teeth, two of which had to be replaced with crowns.

In a letter dated May 18 and addressed to Judge Robinson, a Southwest representative said that the company wanted the sentence to serve as a deterrent to unruly and violent behavior. The letter said that the company’s executive team had heard from “countless flight attendants” who felt under attack during a pandemic that pushed fear around travel to an all-time high.

“What happened on Flight 700 was absolutely horrific,” wrote Sonya Lacore, a vice president at Southwest. “In my 20+ year career at Southwest, I have never seen such an inexcusable, violent assault of a flight attendant by a passenger. Even worse, the incident was captured on video and cast across television and media channels.”

“The video of the assault still sickens me,” she added.

Vimal Patel

2022-05-28 13:10:48

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