Canadian man gets 2 years for flying stolen plane over 3 U.S. states

ST. LOUIS — A 31-year-old Canadian man has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for stealing a plane in Canada and flying over three states before landing along a dark southern Missouri highway.

ST. LOUIS — A 31-year-old Canadian man has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for stealing a plane in Canada and flying over three states before landing along a dark southern Missouri highway.

Adam Dylan Leon had admitted in August to all federal charges he’d faced: interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft, importation of a stolen aircraft and illegal entry.

Leon was born Yavuz Berke in Turkey before moving to Canada, changing his name, and becoming a naturalized citizen. He was described as a good student and was well-liked at the Confederation College Flight School in Thunder Bay, Ont., where the plane was stolen.

Leon might have received only 12 to 18 months. But U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw went beyond federal sentencing guidelines in deciding punishment.

Shaw said the 31-year-old’s actions posed risks to himself and others, cost the government $230,000 to keep fighter jets in the air for seven hours tracking him, and caused the Madison, Wis., capitol to evacuate.

Leon admitted that on April 6, he stole a four-seat Cessna 172 from his flight school and crossed the U.S. border.

Leon landed the plane more than seven hours later on a road off of Highway 60 near Ellsinore, Mo.

He has told the court he suffered from depression.

The unauthorized flight into U.S. air space prompted two F-16 jet fighters into action, tailing the plane until it landed near Ellsinore, Mo., more than seven hours after it was reported stolen.

The state Capitol in Madison, Wis., was evacuated for a time because authorities were not sure whether the pilot was a terrorist or had some other hostile motive.

The FBI and Missouri State Highway Patrol have said Leon told them he was trying to commit suicide, hoping U.S. fighter jets would shoot him down.

A spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defence Command said earlier that shooting down the plane was never seriously considered. The F-16 pilots used hand gestures and flares to try and persuade the pilot to land.

Authorities said the plane was nearly out of fuel when it landed on a former stretch of U.S. 60 that is now just a loop off the main highway.

The judge also had some advice for Leon, whose lawyer, Lucille Liggett, had asked for leniency, saying her client suffered from severe depression from the death of his parents in 2002 in Turkey.

Shaw told Leon it would be worth his while to see “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the classic Frank Capra film starring James Stewart, about a despairing man who comes to know through an angel what life would have been like if he never had lived. Leon said he hadn’t see it.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sauer said the sentence was fitting for a “dangerous and harmful course of conduct,” and hopes it will deter others from such behaviour.

“Law enforcement response was excellent, competent and swift,” Sauer said. “It never ended up being a serious imminent threat to anyone’s security.”

Brady Randus, a friend from his flight school in Thunder Bay, Ont., wrote in a letter to the judge that he knew Leon was “honest, trustworthy and dependable” and an intelligent student who was at the top of his class and well-liked by others in the program.

He wrote that Leon’s actions were “shocking” and “totally out of his character.” The friend’s father, Karl Randus, agreed, saying in his letter that Leon’s actions came on the anniversary of his parents’ death. “We can’t imagine what he was thinking, but we care about Adam, he is a good person, and we hope there will be a chance for leniency for him.”

He admitted that on April 6, he stole a four-seat Cessna 172 from his flight school and crossed the U.S. border.

Leon landed the plane more than seven hours later on a road off of Highway 60 near Ellsinore, Mo.

He has told the court he suffered from depression.

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