State Cites US Airways After DWI Arrest

Man nabbed at checkpoint told officers he had alcohol before, during flight to Sunport

DWI: Citation may hamper airline's pending liquor license

The state Special Investigations Division issued an administrative citation to US Airways on Tuesday for serving liquor to an intoxicated person.

This is the airline's second citation in recent months, the first coming after the deadly drunken driving crash in Santa Fe in November that killed five members of a Las Vegas, N.M., family. Police say Dana Papst, 44, of Tesuque got off a US Airways flight from Phoenix after drinking and drove the wrong way on Interstate 25. His blood-alcohol content was .32 -- or four times the legal limit -- police said.

Investigators issued Tuesday's citation in connection with Friday's arrest of Ernest Wright, 49, of Albuquerque at a DWI checkpoint. Wright was charged with aggravated DWI, said Peter Olson, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Wright told investigators he drank three shots of liquor in Reno, Nev., two shots of liquor at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and another two shots on his flight to Albuquerque International Sunport, Olson said.

Wright had a blood-alcohol content of .16 at the time of his arrest, according to Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, who assisted with Wright's arrest.

Edward Lopez, superintendent of the state Regulation & Licensing Department, said the department could not penalize US Airways after the Papst crash because, at the time, the airline did not have a liquor license in New Mexico. People who sell alcohol without a license are subject to criminal penalties, he said, but not administrative penalties.

Olson said the agency issued the citation after the Papst crash as a wake-up call to the airline and did not file criminal charges after the department determined it could not pursue the citation.

Instead, Lopez said, the department issued the airline a cease-and-desist order that forbade it to sell alcohol on its flights in and out of New Mexico.

The airline stopped selling alcohol and applied for a liquor license, said Bob Hagan, the department's spokesman. The department granted the airline a temporary license March 14, and that license is good until the department either approves or rejects the airline's application, he said.

The airline's temporary license makes the airline subject to the department's administrative penalties, Hagan said.

Lopez said he has to reserve judgment on the case until he sees the citation and police reports, but the citation could "seriously complicate" the airline's application for a liquor license.

"After all this state has been through with the Dana Papst crash, to hear that the same airline is charged with selling alcohol to another intoxicated person is very disheartening," Lopez said.

Gerald Collins, great-uncle of Arissa Garcia, the 16-year-old sole survivor of the Papst crash, said he was not surprised to hear of the second US Airways citation, but he was disappointed.

More law-enforcement officers should follow White's example and ask questions about where drunken drivers have been drinking so the state can punish the establishments that are serving people too much alcohol, Collins said.

In other US Airways news, Hagan said the department held a preliminary hearing on the airline's liquor license application Tuesday. At the hearing, a hearing officer and a US Airways representative reviewed the airline's application to see if all the documentation was in order, Hagan said.

Next, the hearing officer will submit a written recommendation to the department's Alcohol & Gaming Division on whether the department should grant preliminary approval of the airline's license, Hagan said. Preliminary approval is based on whether all the documents are in order and the candidate meets basic requirements to hold a liquor license, not whether the airline is a good candidate to hold a liquor license.

If the hearing officer recommends preliminary approval, the application goes to the applicant's local option district for authorities to determine whether the airline is a good candidate to hold a liquor license, Hagan said.

In this case, since the Sunport is in Albuquerque, the Albuquerque City Council will make that determination, Hagan said.

If the council approves the liquor license, the department has to approve it, Hagan said, but if the council disapproves it, the department can overrule the council's decision.

In the past, the department has overruled local decisions in some cases, Hagan said.

Local option districts can reject license applications based on location conflicts, zoning conflicts or a finding that the liquor license would be "detrimental to the public health, safety or morals," Hagan said.

Debbie O'Malley, president of the Albuquerque City Council, said the issue is a concern to the council, and she expects it will hold a hearing on the airline's application.

Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman for US Airways, said company officials are aware of the second citation and are conducting an internal investigation into Wright's arrest. She could not comment further, she said. "We're trying to get to the bottom of this ourselves," Rader said.

Contact Wendy Brown

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