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American pilot jailed for breaching stay-home notice to buy masks, thermometer

American pilot jailed for breaching stay-home notice to buy masks, thermometer

American commercial pilot Brian Dugan Yeargan is seen outside the State Courts on Apr 29, 2020. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: An American pilot working for Federal Express (FedEx) was jailed for four weeks on Wednesday (May 13) for breaching his stay-home notice to buy masks and a thermometer from Chinatown.

Brian Dugan Yeargan, 44, pleaded guilty to one count of breaching his stay order, which required him to stay in his hotel room for 14 days from Apr 3 to Apr 17.

His lawyer told the court that he had left the room as his sick wife had asked him to buy protective equipment before returning home.

The court heard that Yeargan, a commercial cargo pilot with FedEx, arrived at the aircraft parking area at Changi Airport Terminal 3 after 3am on Apr 3.

He had submitted an online health declaration form stating that he had visited China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan and the United States in the last 14-day period before arriving in Singapore.

An Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer briefed Yeargan on his 14-day stay-home notice, which said that he could not leave his place of residence at all times during the two-week period, even to buy food or essentials.

Yeargan was escorted to Crowne Plaza Changi Airport with two other co-pilots and was reminded again not to leave their hotel rooms at any time.

READ: American pilot says he did not get a hard copy of stay-home notice, judge rejects his plea

However, when officers checked on Yeargan at about 11.30am on Apr 5, he was not in his hotel room.

He had left the room about 15 minutes earlier, walking to the MRT station and taking a train to City Hall. He then walked to Chinatown Point, where he visited at least four shops.

There were about 1,000 people at City Hall station and 10 to 20 people at each shop he visited, Yeargan recalled.

He bought a thermometer and a few boxes of face masks and was heading to the train station to return to the hotel when his FedEx office called him and said he was not supposed to leave his hotel room, and to head back immediately.

Yeargan took a cab back to the hotel, arriving at about 2.15pm.

CLEAR MESSAGE MUST BE SENT: PROSECUTION

The prosecutor asked for at least six to eight weeks' jail, saying that this was the first prosecution under Regulation 3 of the Infectious Diseases (COVID-19 - Stay Orders) Regulations 2020, which was enacted to combat the escalating COVID-19 infection rate in Singapore.

"It is necessary for the court to send a clear message to the public that breaches of stay orders or stay-home notices will not be tolerated, and that severe punishments will be meted out," said Mr V Jesudevan.

The defence had compared Yeargan's case to the case of Alan Tham, who was jailed six weeks for leaving his house to eat bak kut teh and run errands while on a stay-home notice.

However, the prosecutor said "the comparison cannot really be apples for apples". 

"The defence suggests that the breach is not as serious, because Yeargan had gone to buy masks and a thermometer, and they contrast it (to other cases where) the accused went out to buy a meal or have a drink," said Mr Jesudevan.

"But the point remains that the purchase of a mask and thermometer are not essentials ... while Yeargan was under the stay-home notice. There was nothing that could have precluded him from purchasing these items after his stay order expired."

He added that Yeargan's employers could have delivered those items to him.

WIFE SUFFERED HEALTH SCARE, ASKED HIM TO BUY MASKS: DEFENCE

Defence lawyer Ronnie Tan asked instead for a stiff fine and a week's jail, saying that his client had made a mistake but stressing the circumstances behind it.

He said Yeargan worked for an international courier business, flying from route to route and country to country according to FedEx's schedule.

"Unfortunately at this time of the coronavirus situation, you have a position where he flies to each country, he goes through different rules, different stay-home notices, lockdowns and control of movements," said Mr Tan. "He is at this time constantly concerned about the well-being of his wife."

He said she had a health scare, with a condition of lowered immunity, just before Yeargan left her on Mar 18. Emergency services were called to her home and she had serious breathing difficulties.

When Yeargan arrived in Singapore, "the news in the US was depressing", said Mr Tan, with CNN reporting that people would have to get their own masks and personal protective equipment, and that masks would be prioritised for frontline workers.

Yeargan's wife told him that "this was quite a serious situation in the States" and asked him to get personal protective equipment before returning home.

At the same time, Yeargan was set to go on a humanitarian aid mission as part of his military service for the US Air Force, but had to give up this assignment, said Mr Tan.

FedEx also sent an advisory reminding employees to take their temperatures twice a day and immediately report any fevers, coughs or breathing difficulties, and asked them to buy thermometers if they did not have any.

"I think I accept that," said the judge. "The question is: Why can't he ask someone else to do it for him?"

The defence lawyer acknowledged that this was a mistake on Yeargan's part.

He added that Yeargan had worn a mask when he left the hotel to buy the items.

"The accused regrets what he has done," said Mr Tan. "He just wishes to say that it was truly the concern for his wife that led him to do what he has done. They have already lost a member of the family. Four years ago he lost his little daughter. That was a tragic incident. So during this time, the possibility of another death in the family really frightened him."

He said Yeargan wished to apologise and say he respects the laws of the country and admires "the way Singapore runs the country and the protection they have over the citizens".

Speaking for himself, Yeargan said he made a poor choice. "I'd like to humbly offer my apologies and say I have the highest regard for the Singapore people and its laws."

For breaching his stay-home notice, Yeargan could have been jailed for up to six months, fined a maximum S$10,000 or both.

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Source: CNA/ll

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