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Copter Pilot Says Escapee Used Gun, Not Bribe

May 06, 1987|Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The pilot of the helicopter stolen by Ronald McIntosh to spring McIntosh's lover from prison insisted Tuesday that McIntosh had used a gun, not a bribe, to get him to land and relinquish the helicopter.

Testifying at the federal court trial of McIntosh and Samantha Dorinda Lopez, pilot Peter Szabo denied that McIntosh had offered him money or a plane ticket to Szabo's native Australia before he landed the rented craft on a hillside in southern Alameda County last November.

McIntosh, who had gained experience flying helicopters in Vietnam, took off from that hill and landed just over a half-hour later inside the Federal Correctional Institution in Pleasanton. Seconds later he flew away with Lopez, a convicted bank robber he had met in prison.

The pair were arrested 10 days later in a Sacramento-area shopping mall where they were picking up wedding rings.

Lawyers for the couple contend that the escape was legally justified because Lopez allegedly had been threatened with death after complaining about financial irregularities that she had discovered while working at the prison business office.

McIntosh, a convicted con man who had disappeared during an unescorted transfer from Pleasanton to another prison a week earlier, also faces charges of armed air piracy--punishable by 25 years to life in prison--for allegedly stealing the helicopter at gunpoint.

His lawyer, Judd Iversen, did not deny that McIntosh took the helicopter, but said during his opening statement Monday that McIntosh did not use a gun, but instead employed "stealth and cunning and maybe a little bribery" to get the helicopter away from Szabo. The air piracy charge requires proof of force or a threat of force.

Szabo testified Monday that McIntosh, using an assumed name, had rented the helicopter in San Jose and asked him to land it on property that he was thinking of buying in Alameda County.

When Szabo refused, saying he needed the owner's permission, McIntosh ordered him to set the helicopter down, and pointed a pistol at him that he had apparently concealed in his jacket on the floor, Szabo said. He said he landed the craft, got out and saw McIntosh fly off.

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