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Originally published Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Doctor sentenced to probation in Sea-Tac bomb threats

A Tennessee physician who made three bomb threats at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last year to keep his plane from leaving without...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Tennessee physician who made three bomb threats at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last year to keep his plane from leaving without him was sentenced Friday to three years of probation and 500 hours of community service.

Kou Wei "James" Chiu, 32, of Nashville, apologized and told U.S. District Judge Richard Jones he was grateful for his good fortune and the consideration shown him by federal authorities in their recommendations for probation.

Chiu had faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Lang said the government recommended probation because Chiu has a "unique constellation" of qualities — including no criminal history and the ability to pay back society with medical care — that made him a candidate for the reduced sentence.

Chiu claimed in court documents that he had failed to responsibly take his antidepressants in the days leading up to his arrest and that his "impulsive" action was connected to a "maniclike episode" brought on by fluctuating drug levels.

Bob Sheehan, a local man who said he attended the hearing on behalf of inconvenienced plane passengers and other law-abiding citizens, scoffed as the judge sentenced Chiu.

He called the punishment "a farce."

"I don't think it's very much of a deterrent," he said. "Don't make bomb threats or you might get probation."

According to court documents, Chiu admitted calling in three bomb threats in July 2007 because he had missed boarding his Northwest Airlines flight and thought he could delay it. When the first and second calls from an airport pay phone had no effect, Chiu called in a third threat, indicating there was a bomb on board the flight, he said in a November guilty plea.

The third call prompted the plane to return to the airport, and it was grounded for several hours.

Chiu was arrested after people reported hearing him at the pay phones making the threats.

When Port of Seattle police confronted Chiu and asked him if he had made the bomb threats, Chiu replied: "Regrettably, yes, I did," according to court documents.

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Chiu was described in court documents filed by his attorneys as a selfless, brilliant man who worked at medical clinics for the poor and cooked meals for the homeless.

He had been on a business trip to Seattle and was headed home July 25. He missed the flight, according to statements from his travel companions, because he was late returning a rental car.

He became angry, court documents allege, when a gate attendant barred him from boarding the plane he had barely missed.

Federal prosecutors said the incident cost Northwest Airlines more than $81,000, which Chiu was ordered to pay in restitution.

The judge also indicated that all of Chiu's community-service hours would have to be fulfilled by providing free medical care to the poor and uninsured.

The judge allowed Chiu to retrieve his passport and last month released Chiu from the prohibition that kept him from riding on planes or trains.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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