Woman reaches plea deal in Phoenix airport security breach

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2015 8:39 AM

PHOENIX (AP) — A woman who crashed her car through a security gate at Phoenix's airport three years ago and drove onto a runway with her infant son in the vehicle has reached a plea deal in which she won't serve any time in jail.

The no-contest plea on a child abuse charge calls for 24-year-old Koko Nicole Anderson to be placed on probation, attend parenting classes, undergo mental health treatment and monitoring, and pay unspecified restitution for the 2012 security breach at Sky Harbor International Airport.

The breach raised alarm about whether the nation's airports were truly secure. Phoenix officials had said they were satisfied with the airport's fence security and other measures to protect the airport.

A subsequent investigation by The Associated Press earlier this year found that on several hundred occasions over the last decade, intruders have hopped fences, crashed cars through gates or otherwise breached perimeter security at the nation's busiest airports. The lapses exposed gaps in airport security post-9/11 as passengers inside terminals face rigorous screening such as removing shoes and belts while people have been frequently breaching the perimeters of bustling airports.

In Phoenix in 2006, a pilot nearly collided with a man on the runway as he was about to take off. The suspect was arrested, and told authorities that he jumped the fence to take a shortcut. On Christmas Day 2013, a homeless man scaled a barbed-wire fence at Sky Harbor and ran onto the tarmac, banging on the engine of a Southwest Airlines plane. He got seven days in jail and probation.

Authorities say Anderson was pursued on the air field by police vehicles and lost control of her sedan as her car made its way onto a runway and then sped off again. Police records said she then hit a portable toilet and kept driving until an officer rammed her car and caused it to spin around and crash into a fence.

Airport officials say no aircraft were nearby at the time and no passengers were put in immediate danger. The security breach prompted a halt to air traffic operations for about 15 minutes.

Investigators initially suspected Anderson was under the influence of an unknown drug, but ultimately didn't find any traces of illegal substances in her system.

Anderson, who was found inside the car with a pacifier in her mouth, told KPHO-TV in late 2013 that she has bipolar disorder and wasn't taking medication at the time because she was breast-feeding.

"The (plea) offer seems directly related to her mental health issue, and this resolution ensures she would get the help she needs," said Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Anderson.

Police say Anderson, who entered the no contest plea on Nov. 24, drove through a pay gate in an airport parking lot before she headed to a security gate on the airport's edge that was partially open because a Sky Harbor operations worker was testing it. Her 2-year-old son was in a car seat.

No one was injured.

Her lawyer, Bernardo Garcia, said Tuesday that his client wasn't impaired during the incident, but declined to make additional comments.

The airport said Anderson allegedly caused $13,500 in damage.

Sentencing is set for Jan. 29.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jacques-billeaud.