SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A Utah airline pilot is facing federal charges after being accused of groping a 14-year-old girl while he was a passenger on a flight from Detroit to Salt Lake City.
Michael James Pascal, 45, of Park City, is charged with abusive sexual contact, shows a criminal complaint filed this week by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah.
The girl told investigators that she woke up from a nap on an Oct. 26 Delta Airlines flight and found Pascal’s hand under her, gripping her buttocks, court documents show.
Pascal, whose attorney says he works as a pilot for a regional airline carrier that contracts with Delta, told investigators he fell asleep with his hands in his lap and doesn’t know how one ended up underneath the girl.
The girl told authorities she elbowed Pascal after waking up with his hand underneath her and said, “What the hell are you doing?” documents show
She says Pascal pulled his hand out from under her and said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I was asleep, I have to use the bathroom.”
She said the armrest that she had pushed down was in the upright position. Pascal said he pulled up the armrest between him and the girl because the man on the other side of him was taking up a lot of room, document show.
The girl, who was flying alone, told flight attendants what happened and changed seats.
She said Pascal seemed nice earlier in the flight, helping her get a blanket from the flight crew since she was on crutches. But after the incident, she noticed Pascal looking at her in her new seat on the back of the plane in an “annoyed” manner, court documents show.
Pascal told investigators that he doesn’t recall where his hand was when he awoke.
Pascal’s attorney, Rhome Zabriskie, said his client is in shock about being charged. He has a teenage daughter of his own and has been consistent with his story that he just fell asleep, Zabriskie said.
“When he woke up, he realized he had kind of flopped over on the passenger next to him,” Zabriskie said. “Any touching that occurred was inadvertent.”
Delta Airlines spokesman Michael Thomas said the airline is cooperating with the investigation, but declined to comment further.
The regional airline where Pascal reportedly works declined to confirm or deny if he’s an employee.
Pascal is scheduled to be in federal court Thursday morning in Salt Lake City for a detention hearing.
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