A woman who admitted to beating a Southwest Airlines crew member so severely that the bloodied flight attendant required extensive dental work to fix three of her teeth has been sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Friday.
Vyvianna M. Quinonez, now 29, from Sacramento, California, also has three years of supervised release to take anger management courses. She must also pay $25,981.57 in damages and a $7,500 fine, the DOJ said in a press release. In addition, she is barred by the court from flying on commercial aircraft during her three-year supervisory tenure.
Video of the attack on the flight attendant quickly went viral. It shows a woman later identified as Quinonez repeatedly punching a flight attendant with a closed fist on Flight 700 between Sacramento and San Diego on May 23, 2021. A much larger male passenger entered to protect the flight attendant. The bloodied flight attendant stood behind the passenger and held her face before backing away from the camera towards the rear of the plane.
The altercation led to a two-stage federal criminal complaint. It alleged (1) assault causing grievous bodily harm on an airplane; and (2) disruption to flight crew members and cabin crew members.
“During the aircraft’s final descent, Quinonez failed to comply with federal rules and regulations,” the DOJ wrote. “She wasn’t buckled up, pulled down her tray table and wasn’t wearing her face mask properly. Court documents say Quinonez failed to comply with a flight attendant’s request to buckle up. A short time later, another flight attendant instructed Quinonez to fasten her seat belt, stow her tray table for her own safety, and wear her mask correctly. Quinonez didn’t comply and spoke to the flight attendant while shouting obscenities.”
Quinonez began recording the incident and then lashed out. Other videos taken by witnesses recorded the attack.
A male passenger who witnessed the melee said Quinonez claimed she fought back in “self-defense” because the flight attendant allegedly tried to push her cellphone aside. When the male passenger said he told Quinonez it was a “federal offense to assault a flight attendant,” she said, “I don’t give a damn,” according to a government memo.
“The flight attendant was taken to the hospital and sustained multiple injuries,” the DOJ said in a subsequent press release. “Three of the flight attendant’s teeth were broken, so two teeth were later replaced with crowns. The flight attendant’s left eye was injured and swollen; She suffered a cut under her left eye that required three stitches; and she had a bruise in the shape of fingers on her right forearm. Due to the attack, the flight attendant was unable to perform her normal security and customer service duties.”
According to the government sentencing note, the FBI initially asked for a four-month prison sentence and an additional six months of house arrest. The Feds determined that Quinonez was flying with her aunt and sister when the attack took place.
In a letter to the sentencing judge, a Southwest executive said the high-profile nature of the assault necessitated a harsh sentence:
We train for all sorts of challenging situations. But what happened on Flight 700 was absolutely horrifying. In my 20+ year career with Southwest, I have never seen such an inexcusable, violent assault on a flight attendant by a passenger. Worse, the incident was caught on video and broadcast through TV and media channels.
The video of the attack still makes me sick.
This particular passenger created a situation on board Flight 700 that endangered the entire flight and created an unsafe environment. During a pandemic when fear, anxiety and trepidation surrounding travel were already at an all-time high, this passenger’s actions had an indescribably negative impact on our workgroup. In a world of social media and instant messaging, this problem has been exacerbated even further – causing anxiety to take hold in the workplace as this behavior from our passengers appears to have escalated in both severity and frequency.
Our staff was deeply affected and our leadership team heard from countless flight attendants who were genuinely shocked and “offended” by the incident.
Given the widespread media coverage of this incident, Southwest hopes that the final penalty imposed in this matter will serve as a deterrent to others who may be considering engaging in similarly dangerous behavior aboard our aircraft.
The aggrieved flight attendant wrote separately to the court. She said her job was a “dream come true” but that she was hit hard by what happened:
[N]Never in my career have I feared for my life or the lives of those in my care. This was the first time something like this happened on a flight I was working on. We all hear the stories of incidents on flights, including the horrifying, historic event of 9/11. After 9/11, rules and procedures were put in place to protect us. We all practice the same procedures every day to stay safe. I fear for my health and safety now more than ever.
This incident caught me completely unprepared. It was absolutely terrifying. As flight attendants, we are trained to keep all passengers safe – and I never imagined that a passenger would physically attack a crew member in such a vicious manner. This is totally unacceptable and with that I hope that a ruling in this case sends out the message that this kind of despicable assault on a flight attendant will not be tolerated.
I continue to pray for the physical and spiritual healing of my fellow heartfelt colleagues involved in this horrific event and pray that things will get better for all airline employees.
The defenders asked for a served sentence. Noting Quinonez’s “kind, gentle, and extremely loving” nature, they lamented that the publicity generated by the attack meant she “can never fully get over this case.”
While the case of the airline attack was pending, Quinonez was released from custody. However, she was arrested in an alleged drunk driving incident while on bail. As Law&Crime reported in March, she tried to use an alleged “gastric bypass surgery” as an excuse:
California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers observed the black Chevrolet Camaro swerve the defendant and the defendant made a right turn and almost hit the curb. After dragging the defendant over, officers found that the defendant’s eyes were red and watering. The defendant claimed that she had argued with her boyfriend over the phone. Officers smelled a strong odor of alcohol and asked the defendant how much she had been drinking. The defendant stated that she had a few drinks. Officers noted that the defendant’s speech was slurred.
[ . . . ]
In addition, the defendant appears unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions. She claims her high blood alcohol level is due to gastric bypass surgery. However, the defendant told pretrial services that her doctor had told her that “due to the small size of her stomach, her blood alcohol concentration may rise abnormally when she drinks alcohol.” In light of this warning from her doctor, the defendant should have been particularly vigilant about the possibility of driving while intoxicated. Still, she showed a disregard for others on the street when she chose to drink and drive.
As a result of that incident, a judge ordered Quinonez “to remain in custody pending sentencing on this matter.”
The defendant tried to persuade the judge to leave her prison cell. A handwritten note reads in part as follows:
The past year has been the most challenging year I’ve ever had. I am writing this letter while in federal prison and it still feels unreal that the mistakes I have made have put me in this position for which I hold myself, and I, responsible take full responsibility for my actions. Not only did I face federal charges and had never been in trouble with the law before, my mistakes got national news coverage and I was utterly disappointed and ashamed. I wanted to sincerely apologize to the flight attendant and everyone I negatively influenced. I also wanted to apologize to the flight attendant’s family because I saw how my mistakes affected my family as well.
The full letter and some of the judgment parts of the case file are below:
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https://lawandcrime.com/caught-on-video/disappointed-and-ashamed-woman-who-beat-flight-attendant-after-arguing-about-mask-and-tray-table-gets-sentenced-to-federal-custody-i-completely-blame-myself/ Vyvianna Quinonez convicted of attacking Southwest Airline