Pilot of crashed hot-air balloon had prior DWI offenses, driver’s license suspended

LOCKHART , Texas, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Though investigators have yet to say what caused the crash of a hot-air balloon in Texas, killing 16 people, records indicate the pilot’s driver’s license had been suspended due to previous DWI offenses.

Federal Aviation Administration records indicate the commercial pilot’s license of Alfred “Skip” Nichols, proprietor of Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloons, was up to date when his balloon crashed near Lockhart, Texas, on Saturday.

But that’s not the case for his driver’s license. Nichols’ driver’s license had been suspended for two 10-year periods — once in 2002 and again in 2010 after he pleaded guilty to aggravated DWI while living in Missouri. An aggravated DWI charge means he had at least three prior DWI convictions on his record.

Information about the 2002 suspension came about from court documents from a 2009 lawsuit he faced after a crash landing injured one of his passengers. She sued, saying she had $2,000 in physical therapy bills from the crash.

Nichols moved to Texas in 2014. His pilot’s license, first obtained in 1996, was updated in 2014 to indicate his change of address.

Although his previous ballooning firm had several negative reviews on record with the Better Business Bureau of Missouri, largely centered on flight cancellations without refunds, Texas colleagues regarded him as safety-conscious. Earlier this year he announced he had been sober for six years after dealing with alcohol and substance abuse problems, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Investigators have not indicated if Nichols’ past issues with alcohol had anything to do with Saturday’s crash.

An initial FAA investigation determined Nichols’ balloon may have struck high-voltage power lines, mounted on 14-story towers, 42 minutes into the ride Saturday. It caught fire and fell to earth, killing all on board.

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