Christopher Jermaine Jones was not charged with actually causing the mid-air helicopter crash that killed four TV station employees in 2007, but he has now pleaded guilty to 35 charges from the police chase that the news copters were following. WTVK-TV (Ind.) and KNXV-TV (ABC) report that Jones could face a sentence of up to 467 years in prison.
Pilot-reporter Scott Bowerbank and photographer Jim Cox from Belo’s KTVK and pilot-reporter Craig Smith and photographer Rick Krolack from Scripps’ KNXV were killed when their helicopters collided while they and other news aircraft were following the police pursuit of Jones in a stolen truck. He was on parole at the time.
As he was about to face trial on Tuesday, Jones instead pleaded guilty to 35 counts of aggravated assault, vehicular theft, unlawful flight, leaving the scene of an accident, endangerment, criminal trespass and criminal damage. He is to be sentenced on September 10th.
KTVK quoted County Attorney Rick Romley saying, “The defendant’s plea brings us one step closer to closure in the judicial phase of this tragedy. The newsmen whose lives were lost will always be remembered for their sacrifice.”
Jones was not charged in connection with the helicopter collision. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the pilots had been diverted from flying their aircraft because they were reporting on the police chase. The NTSB proposed several new rules for news aircraft, including a requirement that reporting duties not be combined with piloting. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not acted on those recommendations.