Canadian who landed stolen plane near St. Louis gets prison term
By: By Heather Ratcliffe, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Superior Telegram
ST. LOUIS -- A despondant Canadian student pilot who stole a plane in hopes of being shot down when he crossed the U.S. border was sentenced Tuesday in federal court here to two years in prison.
Adam Dylan Leon, 31, admitted that on April 6 he used his student key card to steal a fully fueled, four-seat Cessna 172 from the Thunder Bay, Ontario, flight school he attended.
U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw gave Leon a longer sentence than the 12 to 18 months suggested by federal guidelines. Leon pleaded guilty in August of interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft, importation of a stolen aircraft and illegal entry into the U.S.
"Under the guidelines, this is treated like a stolen car," Shaw said. "This is very serious. I think this is an extraordinary situation in terms of cost and the hours involved. And it posed a significant disruption to government."
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection plane and two Wisconsin Air National Guard F-16 fighters gave chase after Leon flew over Lake Superior and crossed the U.S. border.
Ignoring radio calls, plane-to-plane hand gestures and warning flares, Leon had wandered south in a 7 1/2-hour pursuit that triggered the evacuation of the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison and prompted alerts in a half-dozen Midwestern cities, including St. Louis.
Leon's attorney, Lucille Liggett, said her client suffered from severe depression after his parents were killed in a car crash in Turkey in 2002. Soon after, Leon migrated to Canada to live with a cousin. Two days before the incident, his girlfriend called a suicide hot line and took Leon to an emergency room.
Medication for his depression had not yet taken hold when he decided to hijack the plane, Liggett said.
"He didn't have any malicious intent," she said. "He was hoping he would die in a plane crash."
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sauer said the overwhelming cost of the response warranted a tougher sentence. Documents show that the pursuit costs the government roughly $230,000.
A lenient sentence would also embolden those who wish to harm the United States, he said.
"Mr. Leon posed a threat to our national security," Sauer said. "We know now that he is not a terrorist, but other potential offenders may think they can get away with this, too."
Leon passed west of St. Louis at about 14,000 feet, and commercial flights heading to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport were warned to avoid him.
As the plane's fuel gauge ran low, Leon set down on a rural road near Ellsinore, Mo., about 120 miles southwest of St. Louis.
"I looked for an airport, but I couldn't see any. So I landed on a rural highway," Leon told the court.
Leon parked the plane under an overpass and caught a ride to a nearby store to get a drink. That's where the Missouri Highway Patrol caught up with him.
"I regret what I have done," Leon said. "I wanted to end my life, but God gave me a second chance."
-- Copyright (c) 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.