A longtime air traffic controller was arrested Wednesday night during a traffic stop in Wantagh after police discovered two loaded handguns and a drug believed to be Crystal Methamphetamine in his pants pocket, Nassau County police said.
Breen Peck, 52, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a controlled substance. He was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Hempstead on Thursday.
The Federal Aviation Administration has employed Peck since 1991, Nassau County Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said at a press conference at police headquarters Thursday.
Peck is currently employed at the FAA’s Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility (TRACON) in Westbury and assigned to a training program, the FAA said. A man with the same name was previously involved in two high-profile air incidents in the last five years—in April 2011, when a plane carrying First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, was forced to abort its landing after it came too close to a military jet it was trailing, and in June 2010 when a plane carrying US Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) reportedly avoided a collision with a jet by only 15 seconds.
Asked if Peck was the same man responsible for Michelle Obama’s plane aborting its landing, the FAA said “We are not confirming that information at this time.”
Nassau’s Top Cop said two Criminal Intelligence Rapid Response Team officers were on patrol in Wantagh when they spotted Peck’s 2010 Toyota traveling south on Willow Street with dark tinted windows and failing to signal upon turning left on Byron Street.
After pulling over, Peck notified the two officers he had a loaded handgun behind the driver’s seat and another handgun in the trunk, Krumpter said. A subsequent search by the officers turned up what police now believe to be Crystal Meth in his pants pocket, Krumpter said.
Peck identified himself as an air traffic controller during the traffic stop, Krumpter said. Inside Peck’s car, police said, was a Bersa Thunder.380 handgun with eight rounds in the magazine, a Beretta .40-caliber semi-automatic with 10 rounds, and an additional magazine with five rounds. Peck does not have a permit for the guns, police said.
Krumpter was unable to say if Peck was driving to or from work at the time of the stop. He did not describe Peck’s state of mind at the time of the arrest.
Based on alleged statements made by Peck during the encounter, police believe “He is an active substance abuser,” Krumpter said.
“The Nassau County police may have averted an air disaster in the skies above Nassau County by arresting” Peck, the commissioner added.
An FAA spokeswoman acknowledged in a statement that the agency was made aware of Peck’s arrest.
Contrary to what Peck allegedly told police, “Peck currently is not an air traffic controller,” the statement said. “He is assigned to the facility training program.”
The statement noted that the FAA has opened its own investigation into the incident.
According to the FAA, all agency employees are subject to random drug testing.
The Washington Post reported in April 2011 that an air controller named Breen Peck directed a Boeing 737 carrying both Michelle Obama and Jill Biden from New York to Andrews Air Force Base into potentially dangerous turbulence conditions caused by the C-17 military plane traveling ahead of it.
According to an NTSB incident report, on instructions from air traffic control, the two aircrafts came within only 2.81 miles as they prepared for landing. The minimum separation was supposed to be three miles, the report states.
“The local controller authorized the B737 to make ‘S’ turns on final approach to increase separation,” the report states. “However, when the B737 was 2 miles from the landing threshold, the B737 pilot told the local controller, ‘It doesn’t look like we’re going to make this,’ since the C-17 was still conducting the landing roll on the runway.” That’s when the plane was forced to abort its landing.
The controller told investigators that “He confused the minimum wake turbulence separation requirements” for a B737 following a C-17 instead with the requirement of two B757s following one another.
The report goes on to note that the controller, later identified in published reports as a Breen Peck, had been involved in four other operational errors in the four previous years.
Rep. Sensenbrenner declined to comment.
It’s unclear if Peck was raised on Long Island. Nassau police originally said he lived in Indiana.