Olathe Man Pleads Guilty to Airport Disruption Following Police Chase on Downtown Airport Runway
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – An Olathe, Kansas, man who led police officers on a high-speed chase down a runway at the downtown airport pleaded guilty in federal court today to disrupting airport operations as well as illegally possessing a firearm.
Efren Torres-Rodriguez, 35, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs to one count of damaging or disrupting an international airport and one count of being a felon and an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm.
Kansas City, Mo., police officers were notified of a suspicious car, a Dodge Charger, parked near a gate at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport on Feb. 1, 2022. When officers arrived, they found Torres-Rodriguez passed out in the driver’s seat of the running car. Officers turned off the car and opened the door, which woke up Torres-Rodriguez.
Officers ordered Torres-Rodriguez out of the car, but he refused. Instead, Torres-Rodriguez started the vehicle. An officer discharged his taser as Torres-Rodriguez drove away. Officers pursued Torres-Rodriguez, who crashed through the gate to the airfield. Torres-Rodriguez drove at speeds up to 100 miles per hour down the airport runway, with officers in pursuit. Torres-Rodriguez drove on a tarmac on the west side of the airfield. When he attempted to cross over the airstrip into a grassy area, his vehicle became inoperable.
Officers removed Torres-Rodriguez from the vehicle after he refused to get out, and placed him under arrest. Officers found a clear plastic bag in his pants pocket that contained 4.6 grams of methamphetamine.
When officers searched Torres-Rodriguez’s vehicle, they found a Glock .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine, which were both empty of ammunition, under the driver’s seat. They also found several rounds of ammunition and drug paraphernalia.
Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a felony to be in possession of any firearm or ammunition. Torres-Rodriguez has prior felony convictions for possession of a firearm with a prior violent offense, for being a felon in possession of a firearm, and for robbery.
Torres-Rodriguez was interviewed by law enforcement officials and admitted to using methamphetamine every other day and to smoking marijuana daily since he was 15 years old.
As a result of Torres-Rodriguez’s actions, the airport’s activities were significantly disrupted. For approximately 40 minutes, operations at the airport were closed and planes were not allowed to land or take off. Torres-Rodriguez’s further interfered with the operations at the airport as two aircraft had delayed departures, one aircraft had a delayed arrival and had to remain airborne for approximately 50 minutes, one aircraft had to cancel its flight and one aircraft did not depart. Torres-Rodriguez destroyed the gate and caused serious damage to the air navigation facility’s fence that is designed to keep both trespassers and animals away from the runways. In addition to disrupting the airport’s aviation services, Torres-Rodriguez’s actions endangered the safety of those utilizing the airport.
Under federal statutes, Torres-Rodriguez is subject to a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Trey Alford. It was investigated by the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department and the FBI.
Project Safe Neighborhoods
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.