Pilot in crash enters plea

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SANDPOINT — Bonner County Magistrate Court Judge Debra Heise agreed on Thursday to adopt the terms of a plea agreement that resolves a misdemeanor charge against a Utah pilot who crashed at Sandpoint Airport last fall.

Donald Moss Muirhead entered an Alford plea to a reduced charge of reckless operation of an aircraft and will be given a suspended 30-day jail sentence, court records show.

Muirhead, a 56-year-old commercial pilot from Orem, entered his plea under a provision of the law in which a defendant does not acknowledge guilt but acknowledges the prosecution has enough evidence to gain a conviction.

Muirhead was originally charged with operating an aircraft while under the influence of prescription antidepressants following the Sept. 23, 2013, crash. Muirhead, according to Sandpoint Police reports, crashed off the north end of the airport’s runway, taking out an antenna array that helps pilots make instrument landings in poor weather.

Muirhead, a commercial pilot from Orem, was not injured in the mishap. His two passengers also escaped injury.

Muirhead’s defense counsel, Sandpoint attorney Fred Palmer, argued during Monday’s hearing that his client was not impaired. Palmer also raised doubts that Muirhead could even be convicted of the amended charge because his level of impairment couldn’t be established.

Although Muirhead received a suspended custodial sentence, his pilot’s license will be suspended for a year. Muirhead will also be ordered to pay $2,500, which is the same amount as the county’s insurance deductible to replace the antenna array that serves the distance-measuring localizer.

The system, according to court documents, will be upgraded with a new system. Airport officials told county commissioners in November that the old localizer had a degraded signal due to hangar development, but said an upgraded dual-frequency would overcome the issue.

The plea deal will not shield Muirhead from potential civil proceedings arising from the crash, court records show. Palmer advised the court his client wanted to resolve the criminal matter without admitting liability in light of the prospect of litigation.

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