By Michael Winter
A 60-year-old Idaho aerospace executive has been charged after allegedly slapping a crying infant as their Delta Air Lines flight from Minneapolis was landing in Atlanta.
Joe Rickey Hundley, of Hayden, was charged with misdemeanor simple assault for the Feb. 8 incident aboard Flight 721, the FBI said.
Hundley is president of Unitech Composites and Structures, a civilian and military contractor in Hayden, near Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho, The Spokesman-Review reported Friday.
"I can only say it's an absolute falsehood," he told the paper, referring other questions to his attorney.
The Smoking Gun broke the story earlier in the day.
Jessica Bennett, of Minneapolis, told authorities her 2-year-old son, Jonah, began crying because of the altitude change as the plane was descending last Friday night, according to an FBI agent's affidavit. She said Hundley, who was sitting next to them in the back of the plane, slapped the boy with an open hand, causing a scratch under his right eye.
Bennett said Hundley then used a racial epithet and told her to quiet her child.
Several passengers intervened, and one told the FBI he heard Hundley use "derogatory language" and saw him slap the boy.
A Delta spokesman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that flight attendants separated the passengers and that the crew called for authorities to meet the flight when it landed.
In an interview with The Smoking Gun, Bennett, who was headed to a family funeral, contended that Hundley "reeked of alcohol" and that he had consumed several double vodkas during the two-hour flight.
The Smoking Gun said Hundley denied in an interview striking the child or using a racial slur. He said he he "asked the mother to quiet the child."
Hundley, who was traveling to Atlanta to visit a relative who was hospitalized, said that he was "distraught" during the flight and that he had only one alcoholic drink.
If convicted, he could face a maximum of one year in prison.