Christian Lewallen of Kansas Gropes Woman on Tucson-Bound Airplane, Gets Off Easy

A Kansas man who grabbed a woman's breast on a Tucson-bound flight in 2012 had his criminal case dropped this month after completing pretrial diversion.

Christopher Lewallen, now either 21 or 22, had been charged with abusive sexual contact under federal law in the July 17, 2012, incident on a Southwest Airlines jet going from Seattle to Tucson. He could have received up to two years in prison for the crime if not for a plea deal that allows him to avoid a criminal conviction.

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Cosme Lopez, spokesman for the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office, tells New Times that because Lewallen was considered a "youthful offender" and didn't have a prior record, he qualified for the 14-month diversion program. After he completed the program, Magistrate Judge Bruce Macdonald granted the federal government's motion to dismiss the case on August 11.

The problem began two years ago when Lewallen, in a stroke of bad luck while flying from Seattle/Tacoma to Tucson, found himself seated next to a woman he couldn't resist. "R.A.," as she's called in court records, was sleeping when Lewallen made his move.

"As the plane began to take off, Lewallen reached his hand and moved R.A.'s shirt to see more of her breast," court records state. "Lewallen's hand was inside of her shirt and his hand touched her breast."

The startled woman woke up and Lewallen apologized. After landing, he admitted to an FBI agent that he'd touched the woman's breast.

"I saw it and I went for it," Lewallen's quoted as telling the agent.

It's unclear why Lewallen was flying to Tucson. Records show he'd lived in New Mexico for a time, and in 2012 was living in Paola, Kansas, with his parents. We were unable to reach him last week.

Two other men men busted for essentially the same thing this year can only hope they get off as easy as Lewallen.

On August 12, Eun-Jong Lee, 47, a Cornell University visiting scholar, was detained after a Tokyo-Newark, New Jersey flight after he reportedly touched a sleeping woman's breast on the outside of clothing. Lee's been charged with abusive sexual contact. Devender Singh, a 61-year-old Indian national from Lousiana, is in plea negotiations with prosecutors in New Jersey following accusations that he touched a sleeping woman's breast on a flight to Newark in March.

Creepy incidents like that are common in public transportation -- New York subways have a reputation for being, as Gawker put it in 2009, rather grope-y. On airplanes, though, there's a certain expectation of civility. And no easy escape.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern