SEATTLE — A Tampa man who went berserk last July on a Seattle-to-Beijing flight, beating passengers and crew members with a wine bottle before being subdued, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison.
"I’m deeply sorry for everything that’s happened," Joseph D. Hudek IV, 24, said in a Seattle federal courtroom filled with his supporters and Delta Air Lines employees and passengers. Hudek had pleaded guilty in February to one count of interfering with a flight-crew member and three counts of assault on an aircraft.
Defense attorney Robert Flennaugh II told U.S. District Judge John Coughenour that Hudek had been a model citizen for all but two hours of his life. He had taken 193 prior flights all without incident, Flennaugh said.
But on July 6, 2017, Hudek wanted to sleep on the overseas flight and ingested at least three, and maybe more, 10-gram marijuana candies before boarding the airliner, Flennaugh said. Hudek suffered delusions, hallucinations and "marijuana-induced psychosis," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Hobbs likened the case to a person who chooses to drink and drive, endangering other motorists. But in this instance, Hudek put hundreds of people in danger.
"He recklessly created a risk that endangered all the individuals flying at 30,000 feet on that flight that day," said Hobbs.
According to federal charges, Hudek — whose mother worked for the airline at the time but has since lost her job — was flying first class on a "dependent pass" aboard Delta Air Lines Flight 129 along with 209 other passengers and 11 crew members.
Prosecutors said Hudek tried to open an exit door while the flight was over the Pacific Ocean, managing to move the lever about halfway up.
When two flight attendants tried to stop him from opening the door, Hudek became violent, federal prosecutors said. A melee ensued in which Hudek punched one of the attendants twice in the face and hit a fellow passenger with a wine bottle and with his fists.
A flight attendant grabbed two wine bottles and hit Hudek with both, breaking one over his head.
"Hudek did not seem impacted by the breaking of a full liter red wine bottle over his head, and instead shouted, ‘Do you know who I am?’ or words to that effect," according to a complaint filed by the FBI in Seattle.
Several passengers eventually restrained him before the plane returned to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, according to a federal complaint.
Lon Arnold, the passenger who suffered facial injuries when he tried to help flight attendants subdue Hudek, said during the sentencing hearing that he suffered permanent damage to one eye and a brain injury that prevents him from reading and writing as he once did.
He told Hudek that he will not be able to erase the injuries "by paying restitution" and urged the judge to impose the five-year prison sentence requested by prosecutors.
In issuing the sentence, Coughenour said he had to balance the severity of the attack and the terror that Hudek caused, with his youth, lack of criminal history and the 300 letters of support the court had received on Hudek’s behalf.