Man accused of stabbing soldier on jet

January 15, 2011 4:38:51 PM PST
A soldier was attacked, stabbed in the neck after he tried to break up a fight on a plane. And now, we're learning new details about what happened. Investigators say the plane was on the tarmac at Bush Airport last month, ready to fly to Savannah, Georgia, when the fight started.

The soldier, Nicholas Shipley, 20, is back on post in Fort Stewart, Georgia. The guy accused of threatening him is free after posting bail.

Robert Paterson, 38, works as a contractor in Afghanistan. During a vacation from the war zone, he was arrested at Bush Intercontinental Airport for threatening Shipley and allegedly stabbing him with a type of knife on an airplane.

The men were on an Express Jet flight to Savannah. Police reports indicate the whole thing started with a fight on board. When a stewardess tried to calm the guys down, police say Paterson stabbed Shipley.

According to eyewitnesses, Paterson had a window punch in his hands. They're typically used by police, fire and EMS to break glass and rescue someone from a bad car accident.

"You can only imagine, if it's gonna shatter the glass, it may hurt somebody, as well," said Rick Fernandez, a 10-year veteran of the Pearland police force.

Fernandez now sells the tools. They range in price between $10 and $50. And in Texas, anyone can buy them. But they're powerful.

"On the inside of the object, there is a needle, or a punch, and as this is applied up against the glass and pressed forward toward the glass, the punch strikes the glass and retracts back inside," said Fernandez.

A TSA spokesperson wouldn't comment on the case or on how this tool got through security. He did point out that window punches aren't on the list of prohibited travel items, though the list does include scissors, box cutters and utility knives.

"I would assume that this needs to be checked in and not carried on into luggage," said Fernandez.

From his home in South Carolina, Paterson denied the allegations against him over the phone.

"That isn't really what happened, but I don't really think I can say anything one way or the other to be honest with you, because I don't want to make my situation worse," he said.

His attorney, Neal Davis, says they plan to take his case to trial.

Paterson is charged with aggravated assault. Davis calls the incident a misunderstanding. He says it was a argument that got out of control. They'll appear in court in coming weeks. No word on how badly the soldier was hurt.