Drunk Pilot Pleads No Contest to Buzzing Traffic

Penngrove man came within 100 feet of cars on Highway 37 on Jan. 3 and was found to be drunk when he landed, according to the CHP.


A Sonoma County man pleaded no contest through his attorney Tuesday to flying his airplane while intoxicated within 100 feet of traffic on Highway 37.

Michael Ferrero, 62, of Penngrove did not appear before Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Bradford DeMeo, and his attorney Martin Woods entered the plea on his behalf.

The judge immediately sentenced Ferrero to four days in Sonoma County Jail, three years' probation, 30 days of electronic home confinement and 26 days of volunteer service. Ferrero also was fined $2,326.

Ferrero had been charged with five misdemeanor counts based on the January incident. He pleaded no contest to operating an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol with a blood-alcohol level greater than 0.04 percent — the legal limit while flying.

He had also been charged with operating an aircraft under the influence, two counts of operating an aircraft in a reckless manner, and operating or maintaining an aircraft under the influence, but those charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

The California Highway Patrol's air operations unit was on routine patrol along state Highway 37 in Sonoma the afternoon of Jan. 3 when it spotted a pilot flying recklessly. CHP officials said the pilot was flying as low as 50 feet above the ground, and within 100 feet of highway traffic.

The officers contacted Ferrero when he landed at the Petaluma Municipal Airport, where they smelled alcohol on his breath, CHP officials said. He was cited for flying under the influence after failing field sobriety tests.

Ferrero was charged with a second count of operating an aircraft in the air or on the ground in a reckless manner after another incident on Jan. 28, Chief Deputy District Attorney William Brockley said.

After Tuesday's hearing, Woods said Ferrero is remorseful for his actions.

Woods said the judge's order that Ferrero not fly or taxi the plane for 90 days should address concerns about public safety.

— Bay City News Service

Dorothy May 08, 2012 at 08:29 PM
It seems to me that this is a case of "undersentencing". A plane "buzzing" people driving on the highway puts the cars and their occupants at serious risk, not only from the plane, but because the driver might be startled and cause an accident.
Richard May 08, 2012 at 08:45 PM
I agree that 4 days in jail even with the other parts of the sentence seems to be "undersentencing" for something as serious as a drunk pilot buzzing cars on the highway.
Albert David May 08, 2012 at 09:41 PM
This is such an outrage that I think that a longer sentence would have been appropriate! What a dangerous thing and a message should be sent to all pilots that drunk flying is a serious offense!!!
Suzanne Barbara May 09, 2012 at 01:00 AM
This is such an extra-ordinary drunk driving case that I am surprised that there is not more public outrage at the short sentence received.
Elora May 09, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I do not think that preventing someone who has twice wrecklessly endangered others with his piloting should be given a slap on the wrist like this---he should lose his pilot's license for a year, at the least, and be required to attend AA meetings and to do things to sober up. Three days in jail plus some probation does not sufficiently protect the public.
Elora May 09, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Just to highlight--he was charged with intoxicated piloting for a January 3 incident but there was a second incident on January 28. This is a serious offender.


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