San Francisco

Federal Grand Jury Indicts Southwest Passenger for Allegedly Choking, Punching Woman on Flight

The victim sustained a concussion.

A man who allegedly punched and choked a woman on a Southwest Airlines flight in October, giving her a concussion, has been indicted by a federal grand jury, authorities said Wednesday.

Witnesses said the fight started over the woman's seat being reclined. The San Francisco-bound plane made an emergency landing after leaving from Los Angeles.

Lawrence Wells, 54, who lives in Richmonda, California, faces one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury stemming from the October scuffle on Southwest Flight 2010, according to court documents and U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker.

If found guilty, he faces a possible maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. This is the first time that Wells has been formally identified, and efforts to reach him on Wednesday – after the FBI announced his arrest – were not immediately successful.

Wells allegedly choked and hit the woman, only identified by the initials M.D., in the head with a closed fist, resulting in a concussion, according to the two-page complaint.

The flight returned to LAX where Wells was questioned, issued a citation and released. The indictment was returned Tuesday, NBC News learned. Wells was scheduled to make his first federal court appearance in Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon.

The remaining 136 passengers switched planes and would arrive in San Francisco about five hours late.

KBLX radio host and comedian Mark Curry was on that flight and told NBC Bay Area at the time that he was asleep on the flight and woke up to a commotion.

"I thought it was a terrorist so I jumped up. I didn't know what to do. A guy got into it with a lady and choked her or something," Curry said from his San Francisco radio station in October. "The lady was frantic. They wanted me to put restraints on the guy. They asked me if I would help. I said, 'At 30,000 feet, yes! I'll beat anybody down.' It was an incredible situation."

NBC News' Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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