Plane crash pilot pleads not guilty

SANDPOINT — A Utah man accused of crashing a plane at Sandpoint while under the influence of prescription medication is maintaining his innocence.

Counsel for Donald Moss Muirhead filed a written plea of not guilty in Bonner County Magistrate Court, court records show.

Muirhead, 55, of Orem, is charged with operating an aircraft while under the influence of drugs, a misdemeanor. Hearings dates in the case are pending.

The charge arose from a crash at Sandpoint Airport that occurred shortly before 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 23.

Muirhead was at the controls of a Piper Aerostar 620P when he careened 600 feet off the north end of the runway and crashed into an antenna array that serves a distance-measuring system that helps pilots make instrument landings.

Muirhead and two passengers, 64- and 39-year-old residents of Lehi, Utah, escaped the crash without injury, according to Sandpoint Police reports.

Muirhead blamed the crash on a mechanical issue.

“He said when he hit the runway, the plane did not have any brakes and he was unable to stop,” Sgt. Derrick Hagstrom said in the report.

The two passengers, however, felt that Muirhead approached the landing with too much speed and touched down too late on the runway, according to the police report and witness statements. They also suspected that prescription medication may have factored into the mishap.

The manager of the airport’s fixed-base operations, Jason Hauck, estimated the plane was traveling 110-120 knots (about 126-138 mph) during its landing. Hauck advised police that the cloud deck was high enough that Muirhead could have throttled back up, circled around and made another pass at the landing, the reports said.

Muirhead allegedly appeared lethargic and was slow in his movements and speech while speaking with investigators. Bonner County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Deal, a certified drug-recognition expert, determined Muirhead was under the influence of intoxicating substances.

Muirhead reportedly denied being under the influence, although he did admit to being prescribed antidepressants Seroquel and Lexapro, both of which he said were approved for pilot use by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Muirhead submitted a Breathalyzer sample which showed no presence of alcohol, court records indicate.

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