Judge restricts suspect's mode of travel

No planes. No trains. Only automobiles.

A federal judge ruled Monday that the Nashville physician who allegedly phoned in three bomb threats to delay the departure of a flight he had missed last week at Seattle Tacoma International Airport can return home to Tennessee until he stands trial — but he can't fly.

Dr. Kou Wei Chiu, 31, must make the journey by car accompanied by a family member, Magistrate Judge Monica Benton declared. Because of the nature of the alleged offense, Benton said Chiu must not travel on "common carriers, such as trains, planes or buses."

Chiu's sister, Kady, who attended Chiu's detention hearing at U.S. District Court in Seattle, will accompany her brother on the 2,450-mile drive back to Nashville.

Benton likewise ruled that Chiu can travel only by car back to Seattle for future hearings in his case, accompanied by a "responsible third party."

But Benton said she might waive the travel restrictions if Chiu diligently takes his antidepressant medication and appears stable enough to fly again without posing a public-safety threat.

Chiu's attorney, Peter Friedman, said Chiu had not taken his medication, Effexor, for several days while on a business trip to Seattle before making the alleged bomb threats.

Chiu was scheduled to take Northwest Airlines Flight 980 to Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday. After a delay at the airport's security checkpoint, Chiu arrived at Gate S-7 too late to board the plane, though it was still on the tarmac.

After a gate agent refused to open the jetway door and let him board the flight, Chiu allegedly walked to a nearby pay phone and placed three calls to 911 and said there was a bomb on board Flight 980. The plane left anyway.

The plane returned to Sea-Tac shortly after takeoff. A search of passengers and luggage found no explosives, and the plane departed again later that afternoon.

Northwest Airlines estimated that the incident cost it more than $70,000 in fuel, gate fees and other expenses, according to court papers.

Chiu had been scheduled for a preliminary hearing Aug. 8, but, through Friedman, he has waived his right to attend that hearing so he does not have to travel back to Washington state so soon.

Chiu is charged with one count of providing false of information or threats about an explosive device on an aircraft. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or dbowermaster@seattletimes.com