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Prosecutor Says Passenger Attacked Attendant

September 1, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A smoker became outraged and shoved a flight attendant across an aisle when he was told he couldn’t light up, a prosecutor said, but a defense attorney argued that the man didn’t touch any airline employee.

James Tabacca, 34, a mortician, was on board a Trans World Airlines flight from Boston to Los Angeles in December when it was announced shortly before take-off that smoking would be banned on the flight.

But Tabacca insisted on lighting up and twisted a flight attendant’s arm and shoved her when she tried to stop him, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Scroggie said Tuesday in his opening statement in federal court here.

Scroggie, who also alleged that Tabacca hurled obscenities at flight service manager Pamela Martinez, said that as Tabacca was leaving the plane, he ″intentionally rammed his shoulder into her″ and ″swung his garment bag directly into Pam Martinez’s leg.″

But Tabacca’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Marilyn Butler, said Tabacca didn’t touch Ms. Martinez.

″Nothing happened. All the people surrounding Mr. Tabacca who could be found saw nothing,″ Ms. Butler said.

Although Tabacca’s ticket was for the smoking section, federal regulations require airlines to provide no-smoking seats for all passengers who arrive on time and want them. Prosecutors say this meant most seats on the flight needed to be converted.

The defense attorney claims Tabacca was unfairly singled out by authorities who named him and one other smoker in an indictment. While she says Tabacca did light a cigarette, she denies her client touched Ms. Martinez.

Tabacca, if convicted, faces a 20-year prison sentence and a possible $250,000 fine, Scroggie said.

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