Originally created 11/28/01

Carrier sues man over air security



ATLANTA - An attorney for the man whose dash past security guards led to the four-hour shutdown of the Atlanta airport said Tuesday that a lawsuit by AirTran Airways "reminded me of vultures and buzzards circling."

AirTran sued Michael Shane Lasseter in federal court in Atlanta on Monday, seeking $100,000 in damages for flights that had to be canceled or diverted.

"It makes absolutely no sense for this multimillion dollar company to sue an individual struggling to feed a family of four," said Mr. Lasseter's attorney, Robert Lipman.

Mr. Lasseter, a 32-year-old financial executive from Gainesville, ran past security guards and down an 'up' escalator at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport on Nov. 16, prompting airport officials to ground flights and evacuate thousands of passengers and employees.

AirTran attorney Richard Magurno said the canceled and diverted flights actually cost the Orlando-based carrier more than $1 million.

"People must be responsible for what they do," Mr. Magurno said. "Trying to run down an 'up' escalator and breach security is bad enough at a time of heightened security concerns.

"It's another thing when you stand by and watch as thousands are evacuated from the Atlanta airport and you do nothing."

Mr. Lasseter, his 6-year-old son and the boy's uncle were traveling to Oxford, Miss., for a college football game between the University of Georgia and the University of Mississippi.

He said he ran past the guards because he was concerned about his son, who was left at a Northwest Airlines gate with his uncle while Mr. Lasseter returned to the main terminal to search for a forgotten camera bag. He said he did not see any guards and was not aware that he had caused the security alert.

"No notice was given," Mr. Lipman said. "He was out there for four hours like everyone else, wondering why the airport was being evacuated."

Delta Air Lines, which carries more than 70 percent of Hartsfield's traffic, canceled more than 400 flights because of the security breach. Delta has no plans to sue Mr. Lasseter, company spokeswoman Peggy Estes said.

Hartsfield spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said she was not aware of plans for the airport to file suit.

Mr. Lipman said Mr. Lasseter was devastated by the media coverage of the incident and would not talk with reporters. AirTran's lawsuit was the latest blow, the attorney said, adding that it "reminded me of vultures and buzzards circling around the remnants of my client."

Mr. Lasseter has been charged with disorderly conduct, which carries a maximum of 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Clayton County solicitor general Keith Martin said he could face additional charges, including reckless conduct and criminal trespass.

The solicitor general is still interviewing police and airline officials. He plans to arraign Mr. Lasseter on Jan. 10 or 11.

"I do not intend to make Mr. Lasseter's life any more miserable than it has to be," Mr. Martin said. "But Mr. Lasseter, as every person accused of a crime, has to accept the consequences of his action."