On a US Airways flight carrying 267 passengers that departed from Charlotte, North Carolina, to London this week, a female lawyer in first class tried to unwind and sleep by taking Zaleplon, a prescribed drug for insomnia, and drinking three glasses of wine on an empty stomach after having refused dinner. That’s when she says she blacked out.
When she regained consciousness, she found herself being restrained and her flight, then in Nova Scotia, being diverted to Philadelphia, where several law enforcement officers were waiting to take her to the Tinicum Township Police Department for investigation.
The woman, 41-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Buffett, is a partner at the high-profile Nelson Mullins law firm in North Carolina, one of the largest law firms in the U.S. A respected Cornell Law School grad who practices international, corporate and immigration law, Buffett is a person most people would never expect to cause a ruckus on a plane.
However, according to a criminal complaint filed against Buffett by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Buffett “[a]ssaulted and intimidated US Airways flight crew members and attendants, and interfered with the performance and duties of the flight crew members and attendants, and lessened the ability of the flight crew members and attendants to perform those duties. “
According to the complaint, a physically aggressive and verbally threatening Buffett also tried damaging her seat during the disturbing episode. She also allegedly tried to smash a window with an entertainment system remote control before she got up and stood in front of the cockpit door.
Buffett acted in such a disorderly manner that flight attendants needed passenger assistance to secure her with plastic restraints. She was restrained twice but both times she was able to remove the restraints. Eventually, Buffett was finally subdued after a passenger held her down and wrapped tape around her lower legs.
Buffet was charged with intimidating a flight crew member and interfering with a flight crew member’s duties in violation, a crime that could lead to a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years.
At an arraignment on Wednesday, Buffett told the judge that she had no recollection of what occurred. She said the last thing she remembered was refusing dinner. Her next memory was of being held down.
Nelson Mullins suspended Buffet from her duties and released the following statement:
“Sarah Buffett has been suspended from her duties at the firms thanks to her alleged behavior.
Nelson Mullins is sympathetic to the inconvenience suffered by the passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 732. While we do not know all the details yet, the firm does have an expectation of personal responsibility on the part of all of our partners. Nelson Mullins has and continues to expect the highest standards of professional behavior among all its employees. Sarah Buffett has been suspended pending an investigation.”
Carly Sergent, a passenger on the diverted plane, told the Philadelphia Inquirer of the consequences of Buffett’s actions:
“It just inconvenienced everybody – 200-plus people were completely inconvenienced. One woman was going to her sister’s funeral. A bunch of people were going on cruises of a lifetime, and they were going to miss their connections.
“What we came away with was how one person can go on a plane, take this medication, and ruin over 200 people’s trips.”
The moral of the story: don’t mix prescription drugs with alcohol.