Los Angeles Times

Man held in attack on flight to be evaluated

Suspect, who tried to open emergency door, might be mentally ill.


BOSTON — A man charged with attacking a flight attendant and attempting to open an airliner’s emergency door on a cross-country flight over the weekend remained in custody Thursday after a federal court ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Francisco Severo Torres, 33, of Leominster, Mass., was arrested Sunday when United Airlines Flight 2609 from Los Angeles landed in Boston. A magistrate judge postponed the detention hearing until after the mental health evaluation is completed.

Torres is charged with a felony related to interferin­g with flight crew members while using a dangerous weapon. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutor­s say he tried to stab the crew member with a modified metal spoon.

Prosecutor Elianna Nuzum requested the evaluation, saying Torres’ police record and his actions on the plane indicate he is mentally ill and unable to understand the court proceeding­s.

Torres objected to the evaluation through his federal public defender, Joshua Hanye.

Handcuffed and wearing a beige prison overall, Torres asked whether he could address the court, saying “the God, the Son and the Holy Spirit say that I should,” but relented when the magistrate judge advised against it.

As Torres left the courtroom Thursday, he said “My name is still Balthazar,” a name he used during a rant on the plane. His attorney declined to comment after the hearing.

The plane was about 45 minutes from landing in Boston when the crew received an alarm that a side door on the aircraft had been disarmed, according to court documents. One flight attendant noticed the door’s locking handle had been moved. Another flight attendant had seen Torres near the door and believed he had moved the handle.

Cabin pressure during flight prevents airplane doors from opening.

The crew told the captain that Torres was a threat and that the plane should land as soon as possible, authoritie­s said.

Lisa Olsen, who was sitting a few rows in front of Torres with her husband and daughter, recalled how he grew defensive when confronted by a flight attendant about the door. He started asking whether the crew had cameras, how they knew it was him.

After the flight attendant left him, Torres started loudly rambling that his father was Dracula, which prompted passengers to try to calm him down. He also said he wanted to be shot so he could be reincarnat­ed, Olsen said.

In video taken by Olsen, an agitated Torres can be heard threatenin­g to kill people and promising a bloodbath.

“I will kill every man on this plane,” he says.

He also asks where the pilots were diverting the plane.

“Because wherever it is, there’s going to be a bloodbath everywhere,” he says in the video.

Torres then jumped over another seated passenger and stood in the aisle, saying, “I’m taking over the plane.” A passenger behind him stood up and said, “Don’t even think about it.” Torres then started running down the aisle toward the front of the plane.

He then confronted a male flight attendant and started punching him. The flight attendant felt the metal spoon in Torres’ hand hit him on his shirt collar and tie three times, according to court documents.

Simik Ghookasian, one of the passengers who helped restrain the suspect, said, “Everything just exploded in a few seconds.”

More than a dozen male passengers rushed down the aisle after Torres. He was subdued by several passengers and restrained until the plane landed.

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