A woman who drifted off to sleep in her seat during a United Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Virginia opened her eyes to find the man next to her touching her breast, federal officials said.
When she yelled “get away from me,” the man hopped out of his seat and headed to the back of the plane, where he told a flight attendant he “sexually assaulted the woman sitting next to him,” according to prosecutors.
Ivan Lopez, Jr., 26, is now facing a charge of “abusive sexual contact aboard an aircraft in flight” after the Dec. 24 flight bound for Washington Dulles International Airport, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a Jan. 19 news release. If found guilty, he could face up to two years in prison.
McClatchy News reached out to Lopez’s lawyer for comment on Jan. 19 and was awaiting a response.
“The indictment alleges that she awoke to Lopez repeatedly rubbing her right breast. When the passenger opened her eyes, she allegedly observed Lopez leaning over her and his right hand was placed on her right breast,” officials said in the news release.
The woman told an investigating FBI special agent that Lopez’s hand touching her breast was “not accidental,”, the affidavit states. She accused Lopez of touching her for roughly 10 seconds.
A flight attendant told the FBI agent that Lopez admitted to grabbing the woman when he went to the back of the plane and “further stated that he thought he was in trouble and that he was sorry.”
Then, the flight attendant said they immediately moved Lopez’s seat from the 12th row to the 21st row to keep him away from the woman. After, Lopez apologized to the flight attendant again and said “that he had a disability,” according to the affidavit.
When the FBI agent interviewed Lopez the same day, he said “he wanted to get the woman’s attention by poking her on her right shoulder, so that he could ask her what she was listening to through her headphones,” the agent wrote.
However, the agent wrote, Lopez said turbulence caused him to “accidentally” poke “her breast.”
The official concluded in court documents they believe Lopez committed “a simple assault.”
McClatchy News has reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia for further information.
The office’s news release also said another man, Elias Fethamlk — who was aboard a separate flight headed to Washington Dulles International Airport — is charged “with one count of interference with flight crew members and attendants, and one count of simple assault.”
Fethamlk, 40, is accused of assaulting a flight attendant on an Ethiopian Airlines flight on Dec. 2, according to prosecutors.
McClatchy News reached out to Fethamlk’s lawyer on Jan. 19 and was awaiting a response.