Wednesday, August 11, 2010

JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater basks in new status as celebrity

Fired-up flight attendant Steven Slater was walking on air as he emerged from jail Tuesday night as a folk hero.

"I knew there was a brouhaha about this, but while I was on the inside I didn't realize how much attention it got," said Slater, wearing the same T-shirt and plaid shorts he had on when arrested a day earlier.

"I think something about this resonated with people. The outpouring of support is very appreciated. I'm overwhelmed, very thankful," Slater said after being released from the Vernon C. Bain Center in Hunts Point, the Bronx, after posting $2,500 bail.

Slater, 38, was transformed into a folk hero after he cursed out a nasty passenger over a plane intercom, grabbed some beer and fled down an emergency slide at Kennedy Airport Sunday.

"It's been a good time," a beaming Slater said, as employees leaving the lockup shouted, "You're a hero" and "You're a celebrity."

Relishing in his cult status, Slater even joked about his short stay in the slammer. "I feel tired, I feel about how I did when that suitcase fell on me."Then he pointed to cuts and bruises on his forehead that he called "aviation-related."

But Slater's flight to freedom hit a little turbulence. Freaked out by the media horde following his livery car, Slater's driver returned him to the jail after a 10-minute ride.

"The food was just too good," Slater deadpanned about why he returned.

A lot of people agree that Slater didn't commit a crime, and that includes his mother, his lawyer - and about half the world.

"I can understand why he snapped. I would have snapped, too," Diane Slater said Tuesday after her son pleaded not guilty to criminal charges.

"I think he just had a very small meltdown, and I think he deserved to be able to have that meltdown."

And she isn't the only one.

"I lost patience after a female passenger had an argument with another passenger and then opened the bin door, hitting me on the head without apologizing," Slater told cops.

In his announcement to passengers on the flight out of Pittsburgh, Slater referred to the woman as "the f-----g a--hole that told me to f--k off."

He then declared, "I've had it. That's it," witnesses said.

Slater's Legal Aid lawyer, Howard Turman, said his client was trying to defuse a testy situation when the passenger, who has not been identified, started giving him hell after the plane landed.

"He was trying to do his best in providing safety and you have rudeness and lack of courtesy among the traveling public," Turman said.

"The woman was outraged and cursed him out a great deal. At that point, I think, he just wanted to avoid conflict with her."

Through his lawyer, Slater pleaded not guilty to criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing charges.

Authorities said Slater endangered jetBlue employees under the aircraft when he activated the emergency slide, which costs more than $25,000 to replace.

JetBlue suspended Slater even as Facebook fans began raising money for his legal defense and demanding he get his job back.

He has quickly become a global sensation. MySpace photos of him posing on planes - one with a Bud Light in his hand - hit the Internet. His ex-wife, married to him in the '90s, also came out of the woodwork.

In the leafy Thousand Oaks, Calif., neighborhood where Slater grew up and his mother still lives, neighbors were shocked by his newfound notoriety.

"I've never seen any display of that kind of conduct before, so I have to believe to some extent there must have been some severe provocation," said Ron Franz, who lives across the street.

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