National News

Court appearance for man who allegedly caused partial airport evacuation

Posted July 12

— The man police say is behind a hoax that shut down part of Sky Harbor International Airport last week made his initial appearance in court on Wednesday.

John Nichols, 61, of Temecula, CA (about an hour north of San Diego), reportedly had told airline personnel that he had a bomb in his bag, according to court paperwork obtained by 3TV and CBS 5.

Nichols was released on his own recognizance over the weekend.

His arrest stems from an incident Friday afternoon that sparked the evacuation of the Terminal 4 ticketing area.

According to police, Nichols was checking a bag for a Southwest flight.

"During the check in [sic] process, the bag was tagged by Southwest for travel. After the bag was tagged, the listed def made a comment that he had a bomb inside the bag and walked off," according to the arresting officer's probable cause statement. "This comment was witnessed by other personnel on scene. The Southwest employee notified the authorities immediately."

In addition to a response by the bomb squad, there was "a brief manhunt" and an evacuation of a portion of the terminal, according to court paperwork. Crews from two fire stations were called out, as were "all officers assigned to the Sky Harbor International Airport."

"The evacuation also stopped all business for every airline within Terminal 4 for over two and a half hours," according to court paperwork. "The def [Nichols] was located and taken into custody. The def showed no remorse reference the incident."

"That suitcase was never a harm to anybody," Sgt. Alan Pfohl of the Phoenix Police Department said in the hours after the incident. "It was just his personal belongings."

It's not clear what might have prompted Nichols' alleged comment, which set the evacuation procedure in motion. Court paperwork indicates that police believe Nichols was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.

Although exact numbers have not been released, the hoax was likely an expensive one.

"As of the writing of this statement, it is believed the incident has a cost in the millions of dollars [sic] worth of delays," the probable cause statement reads.

Pfohl clarified that that statement is "definitely not a hard and fast number and not one that would have any evidentiary value."

Arizona law makes inciting a hoax that "is likely to impart the false impression that an act of terrorism ... is taking place or will take place" and "would reasonably be expected to cause or that causes an emergency response by a governmental agency" is a class 4 felony.

"A person who is convicted of a violation of this section may be liable for any expenses that are incurred incident to the emergency response and the investigation of the commission of the offense," according to ARS §13-2925B.

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