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Man who tried to open emergency exit on flight to Oregon gets 3 years of probation

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PORTLAND, Ore. - An Alaska Airlines passenger who tried to open an emergency exit during a flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Portland was sentenced Monday to three years on probation.

Alexander Michael Herrera, 24, faced prison time after pleading guilty to interfering with a flight crew. But federal prosecutors recommended probation because he has shown "remarkable dedication" toward staying on his medication for bipolar disorder and getting his life on track.

Herrera told U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez he never intended to harm or scare anyone on the May 2013 flight, and he will stay on his medication. He acknowledged it was negligent of him to be off his meds before the incident, which he does not fully recall.

"All I remember is being on the floor of the airplane — it was horrible," said Herrera, who declined to be interviewed after the hearing.

Herrera had a seat in the emergency exit row. According to the criminal complaint, what started as a polite conversation with a woman seated next to him became bizarre and threatening.

Herrera then turned his attention to the emergency exit, asking: "What would you do if I open the exit door?"

Herrera, who weighs more than 200 pounds, then fruitlessly tried to open it. Passengers helped wrestle him to the floor.

Herrera's listed address was in Rio Rico, Arizona, at the time of the arrest. He spent more than five months in jail before he was released in November.

While on pretrial supervision, he stayed on his medication, volunteered to help Portland's homeless population and found, lost and regained work.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Holman Kerin and public defender Ruben Iniguez both told the judge that Herrera has been a success story and should be sentenced to two years of probation.

"That medication, as the court well knows, makes all the difference in the world," Iniguez said.

The judge, however, added a third year of probation. He said many defendants have promised to stay on their medication, only to lapse, and Herrera's actions on the plane were terrifying.

"This is serious, serious stuff," Hernandez said.

Hernandez did not impose a fine, but the Federal Aviation Administration is pursuing a $15,000 civil penalty.

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Follow Steven DuBois at http://twitter.com/pdxdub

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