NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Air travel is tough enough without having to worry about bad behavior from fellow passengers.
A North Bergen man is accused of sexually abusing a woman who fell asleep during a five-hour United Airlines flight from Phoenix to Newark Liberty Airport.
Bawer Aksal, 48, was arrested Tuesday when the plane landed.
According to prosecutors, Aksal was seated next to a woman who had the window seat. They didn’t know each other.
At one point during the flight, prosecutors said the woman fell asleep. When she woke up, prosecutors said Aksal had one hand in her shorts and another in her shirt.
According to the FBI complaint, Aksal, who was breathing heavy whispered to the victim “Kiss me.”
Prosecutors said the alarmed woman told Aksal to get off of her and slammed down the armrest. She then told a member of the flight crew what happened. The victim’s story was backed up by the passenger sitting on the other side of Aksal, who was isolated on the plane after the alleged incident and arrested as soon as the flight landed.
Police said the flight crew isolated the suspect on the plane after the alleged assault.
To female travelers, it was an alarming reminder to be aware of fellow travelers sitting just a few inches away.
“It makes you think now, when you get on the plane. [It’s] something else to worry about,” said Susan Pear of Brick, N.J.
“You never think of an incident like that — more like someone doing something to safety of the plane. Not the safety of you,” added Nancy Kurtok of Prescott, Ariz.
According to the complaint, Aksal was interviewed by law enforcement officers when the plane landed and read his rights. Nonetheless, according to the complaint, Aksal admitted groping the woman, but claimed it was consensual.
Authorities said Aksal lives in North Bergen, has no criminal record and mostly works as a waiter, though claims to be in the process of setting up a restaurant consulting firm. However, one neighbor told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider that Aksal regularly gives that neighbor’s wife inappropriate looks and has been known to people in the area as a prolific womanizer.
The U.S. attorney said the victim is being cooperative and is credible. She told investigators she and the defendant didn’t speak at all before the assault.
If convicted of the sexual abuse charge, Aksal could face life in prison and a $250,000 fine. He’s been ordered held without bail as a possible flight risk.
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