Felony charges filed against an Encino pilot accused of crashing a private four-passenger plane while flying under the influence of liquor will be upgraded to two counts of second-degree murder, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner announced Thursday.
Reiner, whose office had filed an arrest warrant Wednesday charging pilot Roger Amiran, 23, with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, said he was stiffening the charges after reviewing information he received early Thursday on Amiran's driving record.
From December, 1984, to January, 1987, state records show, Amiran had 13 moving violations, nine of them for speeding. Amiran, who Reiner said "flies an airplane the way he drives a car--that is, recklessly," currently has his driver's license suspended.
No FAA Action
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed Thursday that it has taken no action, at least as yet, to suspend or revoke Amiran's flying certificate as a result of the April 9 double-fatality air crash and that its own investigation is continuing.
Passengers John Terrance Harris of Northridge and Mathew Frey of Canoga Park, both 22 and described by Reiner as friends of Amiran, were drowned after being trapped in the Piper PA-28 Warrior that went down about 500 yards offshore from Malibu Beach about 9:15 p.m.
A third passenger, Laurie Thuer, 21, of Simi Valley, was rescued along with Amiran by a Coast Guard helicopter. Thuer was described by Reiner on Thursday as one of several witnesses against Amiran.
Reiner said Thuer, a secretary and friend of one of the victims, told authorities that the tragedy occurred after Amiran took the aircraft to water level and told the passengers to "watch the spray come over the wing tip."
Terming Amiran "reckless" and "irresponsible," Reiner said that "this was not an accident involving mere carelessness--this was a case of a pilot going up in the air and trying to show off."
"Tragically, the wing dipped into the water, the airplane crashed," the district attorney said. "There are too many concerns that are being raised about air safety to have somebody up in the air playing around (in) games like that."
Amiran spent much of the day Thursday secluded in his second-story Burbank Boulevard apartment. He turned down repeated inquiries to speak to reporters.
Released on Bail
Amiran, who was released from jail after posting $5,000 bail, is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 20. At that time, Reiner said, an amended complaint containing the murder charges will be filed.
If convicted, Amiran could face a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder and also a three-year prison term for flying under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.
According to Reiner, Amiran registered a blood alcohol level of 0.02 when tested three hours after the accident. While the legal limit for pilots is 0.04, Reiner said he believes Amiran was above that level while actually flying the plane and that the evidence also shows that Amiran "had consumed enough alcohol to affect his judgment and his ability to control the airplane."
Drinking at Airport
Reiner said Amiran had been drinking with the three passengers in a restaurant bar at Van Nuys Airport before renting the airplane for a sight-seeing tour of the Pacific coastline to Long Beach.
Before flying near water level while returning north, authorities charge, Amiran nose-dived the plane to simulate weightless conditions.
Shortly after the accident, Amiran told authorities he had been making a banking turn to the left when the plane suddenly pitched down and hit the ocean.
Amiran also told authorities that the plane's instruments showed the aircraft was 200 feet above the water just before it crashed. Deputy Dist. Atty. Lonnie A. Felker, who is prosecuting the case, said Thursday that the minimum legal limit for flying above water is 500 feet.
Qualified to Fly
FAA records show that Amiran, who has held a private pilot's certificate since August, 1986, was rated to fly single-engine airplanes.
The associate regional counsel for the FAA, Fred Woodruff, said Thursday that any action to suspend or revoke Amiran's flying certificate would not take place until an ongoing federal investigation concludes.
Although Woodruff would not comment specifically on the Amiran case, he declared that "the fact somebody allegedly committed a crime would not necessarily mean he'd lose his license immediately. He has due-process rights."
Times staff writer Gregg Braxton contributed to this article.