Friday, February 24, 2012

Flying High


Will Kane

February 16, 2012

Ray Pirro was probably hallucinating while flying, a coroner says.

Cessna 172 crashed near Barstow and Garfield.

A Tracy man who stole a single-engine plane from the Concord airport before crashing it in Fresno was so "extraordinarily" high on methamphetamine that he probably couldn't see straight, authorities said Wednesday.

Ray Pirro, 52, died when the four-seat Cessna he was flying apparently ran out of gas and crashed in a Fresno field Feb. 5. No one else was injured.

It wasn't the first crash for Pirro, who didn't have a pilot's license and went to prison in 2003 and 2008 for stealing cars. He crashed his own plane in 1988 when he ran out of gas, but he suffered only minor injuries, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

An autopsy conducted after last week's crash showed that Pirro had a methamphetamine concentration of 2,500 nanograms per milliliter of blood, said David Hadden, the Fresno County coroner. A concentration of around 300 is considered toxic, Hadden said.

"This indicates that's he's a heavy user; we feel that this guy has been using for a long time," Hadden said. "But he was still too high to fly an airplane, that's for sure."

Hadden said Pirro would probably have been hallucinating, paranoid and suffering from extreme mood swings when he was flying the plane.

"That's almost certainly what caused him to crash," Hadden said.

Felix Boston, 61, the owner of the stolen plane, said that when emergency crews arrived at the crash site, they found that the cockpit was filled with "Pop-Tarts, energy drinks, chips and Cheez Whiz."

Pirro had to take drug tests as part of his parole for auto theft, authorities said. He passed a test Feb. 2, two days before the plane was stolen, said Luis Patino, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Pirro was not a licensed pilot, although he was listed as the owner of a single-engine, 1959-vintage Cessna plane, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

Pirro crashed that plane just 17 days after he bought it in 1988. The National Transportation Safety Board blamed inadequate training after he ran out of gas and crashed just short of the Tracy airport, records show.

The plane was found nosed over. Pirro fled the scene without notifying authorities, according to records.

Boston, a retired Air Force officer who lives in Walnut Creek, said investigators had told him it appeared his plane ran out of gas before Pirro crashed it in Fresno.

The plane was taken early Feb. 4 from Buchanan Field in Concord. It was spotted in a hangar at the Byron airport later that day, but no one knew then that it was stolen, Boston said.

The Fresno crash happened about 4 p.m. the next day.

Boston said his plane had been locked but that, like most small planes, it could easily be opened with a screwdriver.

"It had a full tank, the headsets were all there, it was ready," Boston said.

He said he had just reupholstered the cockpit.

"I loved that plane, it was my baby - it was the first real plane I ever had," Boston said. "This would make a great movie, wouldn't it?"

Boston was arrested and charged with gross stupidity. Bond was set at $3 billion Euros because Boston was considered a "flight" risk. Ha. ha.

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