Rays commentator helps subdue Pinellas man accused of threatening to blow up plane

On a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Tampa, Kevin Kennedy awoke to a man shouting about Satan.

"I was in 2C, so I was in first class, probably 4 feet from him," said Kennedy, a color commentator for the Tampa Bay Rays and a former Major League Baseball manager. "He kind of stared me down, that's when he said, 'I'm going to blow this up, you're all going to hell with me.' He threw water at me.

"Within five seconds, we charged him and took him out."

In a scuffle in the first-class cabin on the Thursday-into-Friday flight, the TV broadcaster and seven others tackled passenger Stanley Dwayne Sheffield, 46, of Largo, and tied him up with seat straps until the jet made an emergency landing in Albuquerque, N.M.

Sheffield was taken into federal custody after Delta Flight 2184 landed at 1:30 a.m. Friday. The jet continued on to Tampa International Airport at 4 a.m., about three hours later than scheduled.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Darrin Jones said authorities do not believe the incident was terrorism.

Sheffield, who grew up in Clearwater and lives in Largo, was returning home after visiting his ill mother in California, said Mary Sheffield, 46, his former wife.

She said the father of two teens was not involved in any terrorist groups, and the incident stems from Sheffield's mental health problems.

"He doesn't deal well with stress," she said. "And with his mother being sick, it was a stressful time for him."

Authorities charged him with interference with flight crew members and destruction of an aircraft. Sheffield appeared Friday before U.S. Magistrate Richard Puglisi, who scheduled preliminary and detention hearings for Monday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chuck Barth said Sheffield remained jailed in Albuquerque.

The incident began 90 minutes after the cross-country flight took off.

A flight attendant noticed that Sheffield was awake and asked if he could bring him anything, a federal complaint says. Sheffield did not respond. The flight attendant asked again 15 minutes later — again, no response.

Sheffield then went to a lavatory and, while returning, grabbed a 2-liter water bottle from a drink cart and sprayed passengers.

"Get behind me, Satan," Sheffield told the flight attendant.

He shouted, "You need to land this plane or I'm going to blow it up," the complaint says. He then approached the cockpit door, again shouting, "Get behind me, Satan."

Kennedy said he was on the overnight flight to rejoin the baseball team.

"I was wide awake immediately because I saw this guy — he was crossing himself, had a big bottle and was flipping water around, talking about Satan and 'follow us,' " he recalled. "The guy next to me, when we got on the plane … we actually talked about being aware of this kind of stuff, that's what's eerie about it."

Sheffield paced nervously, then rushed the cabin doors, Kennedy said. That's when eight passengers sprang into action.

"It was a bull rush," Kennedy said.

One passenger flashed something that looked official and told Sheffield, "On your belly right now, get on your hands and knees," Kennedy recalled.

Under a pile of passengers, Sheffield managed to break a belt being used to bind his hands. Kennedy said the man bucked as passengers used seat belts from the flight attendant demonstrations to tie his legs.

"Every one of those guys were great," he said. "Everybody reacted differently, but everybody reacted great."

Susan Elliott, a spokeswoman at Delta's headquarters in Atlanta, said the aircraft, an Airbus A320, and its 100 passengers and seven crew members never were in jeopardy.

"It is impossible to open a cabin door during flight because of the pressurization of the aircraft," she said.

Mary Sheffield said her former husband was in road construction until mental health issues hindered his ability to work.

"He is in a very bad place mentally," she said. "For the sake of his kids, I want him better. He's a good dad."

Times researcher John Martin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rays commentator helps subdue Pinellas man accused of threatening to blow up plane

04/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 24, 2010 12:23am]

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