Witnesses Say Airline Agent at Newark Attacked First
By MARIA NEWMAN
NEWARK, March 27 — Clutching a picture of her family and pausing often to weep, the wife of a man accused of breaking the neck of a Continental Airlines ticket agent testified today that the agent had been choking her husband.
The witness, Victoria Davis, was the first to testify on behalf of John C. Davis Jr., who is on trial in State Superior Court, charged with aggravated assault.
The prosecution rested today after a week of presenting witnesses, several of whom said they saw Mr. Davis, of Fredericksburg, Va., grab the ticket agent, Angelo Sottile, in a bear hug and throw him headfirst onto the floor after a dispute over boarding passes on July 22, 1999. If he is found guilty, Mr. Davis will face up to 10 years in prison.
In response to questioning by Ronald Sampson, one of her husband's lawyers, Mrs. Davis described an evening in which her family of 11 was waiting at a crowded terminal for a flight that was more than two hours late. She said that Mr. Sottile began yelling at the crowd to form one line and told families traveling with children that they could board first. The Davises and their two children lined up, along with her parents, her sister and brother-in-law and their three children, to begin a family vacation to Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Her father was first in line, she said, and he had four of the children with him. Behind him was her mother, who was in a wheelchair; Mrs. Davis was pushing the wheelchair. When her father gave Mr. Sottile the boarding passes, she said, he told them that they did not have enough passes for their group.
As different family members began arguing with Mr. Sottile over the boarding passes, she said, her daughter, Kayla, who was then 18 months old, ran into the jetway, and she tried to go after her. Mr. Sottile told her she could not go after the child, she testified, and he physically restrained her.
"He put his hands on my chest and told me to get back," she said, using both her hands to demonstrate how she was pushed. "He told me, `You're not getting your daughter.' "
She said she went around him anyway to get to her daughter, who was crying for her mommy. She said that was when her husband approached Mr. Sottile.
"My husband told him, `Don't touch my wife,' " Mrs. Davis said.
Then, she said, she saw Mr. Sottile grab her husband by the neck and begin to choke him, until the two fell onto the floor. She said she saw her husband's feet go up into the air about waist high.
None of the prosecution witnesses said that they had seen Mr. Davis fall to the ground, only that they had seen him throw Mr. Sottile several feet before he landed on his head.
Mrs. Davis's father, Richard Kevin Caldwell, who lives in Iselin, N.J., also took the stand today. He said that he saw Mr. Davis grab Mr. Sottile from behind, and that the two fell down together, with Mr. Sottile's head hitting the floor first and Mr. Davis landing on top of him.
"John got up and walked away," Mr. Caldwell said, adding that airline employees surrounded Mr. Sottile as he lay on the floor.
A third witness, Patricia Stotzer of Hillside, N.J., also said that she saw Mr. Sottile choking Mr. Davis with one hand. But the prosecutor, Leslie Mann, tried to cast doubt on her testimony by noting that in grand jury hearings last year, Ms. Stotzer had said that Mr. Sottile had grabbed Mr. Davis with both hands and that "it didn't look like he was choking him."
Mr. Mann also noted that Ms. Stotzer, who was a city councilwoman in Hillside, N.J., at the time of the incident, had called a newspaper reporter instead of going to the police with her account of what had happened.