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Buck's Air Rage Trial Heats Up

British press having a field day with R.E.M. guitarist

March 21, 2002 12:00 AM ET

The British press has had a field day this week with Peter Buck, as the R.E.M. guitarist sits accused of "air rage" in a London courtroom. "Terror As Rock Star Rampaged On Plane," screamed the full-page headline across Tuesday's Evening Standard; "I Feared R.E.M. Rocker Would Stab Someone," read the story in Wednesday's Daily Star; "My Jet Attack By Drunk Rocker," detailed the story of a flight attendant's testimony in the Daily Express. "R.E.M. star 'became drunken yob,'" exclaimed another.

Buck is charged with two counts of assault against Mario Agius and Holly Ward, one of drunkenness on an aircraft and one of criminal damage stemming from a British Airways flight between Seattle and London last April. Buck was travelling to London to perform with his band mates at Nelson Mandela's "Freedom Day" concert, when British Airways First Class flight attendants testified that he drank more than fifteen glasses of wine and became belligerent. One flight attendant testified that Buck was unruly after being refused further alcohol, had to be stopped from grabbing a bottle of champagne from the galley, and at one point from trying to take a knife from the serving cart.

"We were asking him to sit down when suddenly he punched the wall very hard," said British Airways staffer Holly Ward. "He did not seem very happy that we'd asked again to sit down. He replied to [her colleague Mario Agius] 'I can fucking take you out any time, and I can put that fucking tie down your throat.' He grabbed Mario's tie and pulled it tight around his neck."

Captain Tom Payne testified that he called a flight deck crisis meeting at 35,000 feet, after Buck ripped up a "yellow card" that warned him to behave. "We could divert to the nearest airport, drop him off or press on and call the police," Payne said in court. "I decided to press on."

In testimony Wednesday, Buck said that he has no memory of the incident in the air. After taking a sleeping pill and a glass of wine while still flying over America, his next memory was waking up in a jail cell at Heathrow Airport. "I recall . . . there were bright lights overhead," Buck told London's Isleworth Crown Court. "I wasn't really awake. I had this fear I had had a heart attack and was in a weird hospital in Disneyland. I don't mean I was seeing characters or anything like that. I was just struggling to get conscious."

Buck says it was when he saw the fingerprint ink on his fingers that it all became real. "To me, it was just incomprehensible," he said. "I have never been in trouble before . . . I will go miles away to avoid confrontation. I really don't like it."

Buck faces jail time if convicted, and in recent years, British courts have been very hard on celebrities convicted of crimes. The trial is expected to continue into April.

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