A California woman has pleaded guilty to one charge after beating and bloodying a flight attendant who eventually required significant dental work to repair three of her teeth, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Vyvianna M. Quinonez, 28, of Sacramento admitted to interfering with a Southwest Airlines flight attendant.
The fight was caught on a video which quickly became viral. In it, a woman eventually identified as Quinonez could be seen repeatedly bashing a flight attendant before a much larger male passenger stepped into the fray. The bloodied flight attendant stood behind the passenger and held her face before retreating off camera to the rear of the plane.
Pursuant to the plea, Quinonez admitted that she boarded Southwest Flight 700 between Sacramento and San Diego on May 23, 2021.
“During the flight’s final descent, Quinonez was not wearing her facemask properly, unbuckled her seat belt, and pulled down her tray table—all in violation of federal rules and regulations,” the DOJ explained in a press release. “Quinonez began filming the flight attendant on her cellphone, and . . . she pushed the flight attendant. Around this time, another passenger began filming the interaction on her cellphone.”
The DOJ continued:
Quinonez admitted that she stood up and assaulted the flight attendant by punching her in the face and head with a closed fist and grabbing her hair. Several other passengers attempted to stop Quinonez by grabbing at her clothing and arms. A male passenger sitting nearby jumped in between Quinonez and the flight attendant and instructed Quinonez to sit down.
“The passenger repeatedly ignored standard in-flight instructions and became verbally and physically abusive upon landing,” Southwest Airlines spokesperson Chris Mainz said in a statement back in May. “Law enforcement officials were requested to meet the flight upon arrival, and the passenger was taken into custody. We do not condone or tolerate verbal or physical abuse of our flight crews, who are responsible for the safety of our passengers.”
The captain delayed bringing the flight to the gate so that law enforcement officers could be summoned to take the defendant into custody, the DOJ noted.
The plea agreement, as it is described by the DOJ, also corrects several previous versions of the incident.
It was originally reported that the flight attendant lost two teeth. According to the DOJ, however, three of the Southwest employee’s teeth were chipped, and two needed to be replaced by crowns. Additionally, according to the DOJ’s recap of the defendant’s myriad admissions of wrongdoing, “[t]he flight attendant’s left eye was bruised and swollen; she sustained a cut under her left eye, requiring three stitches; and she had a bruise in the shape of fingers on her right forearm.”
Plus, while the original reports on the matter suggested that the dispute did not involve a facemask, the DOJ’s description of the defendant’s plea agreement suggests that it did, at least in part, as previously noted.
“The flight attendant who was assaulted was simply doing her job to ensure the safety of all passengers aboard the plane,” said Acting United States Attorney Randy Grossman in a prepared statement. “It’s inexcusable for anyone to use violence on an airplane for any reason, particularly toward a flight attendant who is there to keep all the passengers safe. We are not going to tolerate violence or interference with the flight crew, and we will pursue criminal charges against those who break the law.”
“The FBI is committed to keeping air travel safe from threats which come in a variety of forms,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner. “Assaulting and interfering with flight crews will not be tolerated and the FBI will continue to work with our local, state and federal partners to diligently investigate and prosecute crimes such as these.”
Quinonez was originally charged with two counts: (1) assaulting the flight attendant, listed in court documents only by the initials S.L., causing serious bodily injury in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(6) and 49 U.S.C. § 46506(1); and (2) assaulting, intimidating, and interfering with the performance of the duties of a flight crew member under 49 U.S.C. §§ 46501 and 46504.
The first count, a felony, would have involved a possible fine, imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both. The second count carries a possible fine, a prison sentence of up to 20 years, or both. The defendant pleaded guilty to the count with the most serious possible sentence.
A sentencing hearing for Quinonez is scheduled before U.S. District Judge Todd W. Robinson on March 11, 2022, at 9:00 a.m.
The defendant’s full plea agreement document was not yet part of the public federal court docket as of the time of this writing. The charging documents and other piece of the case file, however, are below.
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