Two guards at Lambert suspended

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
05/09/2008

Two contract security guards at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport have been suspended in the wake of a security breach Wednesday morning in which a homeless man slipped through a vehicle checkpoint and was later found sleeping on a plane.

And a third security guard was fired after an unrelated security lapse the previous night, an airport spokesman said Thursday.

Lambert spokesman Jeff Lea said the unidentified guards in Wednesday morning's incident were suspended pending the outcome of an investigation by their employer, Whelan Security Co., the airport's security firm. The two guards were working at the checkpoint where the breach took place, a Whelan official said.

Lambert police are also investigating how the man slipped through the checkpoint about 5:30 a.m. before he was found sleeping on an empty regional jet about 6:40 a.m. Unlike the passenger screening checkpoints — which are staffed by Transportation Security Administration officers — the airfield perimeter security is the responsibility of the airport.

Lea said the airport had made changes to security procedures in the wake of the incident. He did not elaborate.

Whelan, based in St. Louis County, provides unarmed security guards at the vehicle checkpoints, parking garages and other posts at Lambert under a three-year, $18.5 million contract that expires in October.

"Needless to say, we are very concerned and have opened our own investigation," said Whelan president Greg Twardowski.

The night before the homeless man made it onto the plane, a female passenger left the secure area of Concourse A and immediately turned around to re-enter the area, saying she'd forgotten her purse, Lea said. The security guard at the exit, also a Whelan employee, allowed her to re-enter without going through screening, violating security procedures. Airport police found the passenger and conducted a security sweep.

Whelan fired the guard, Lea said.

Regarding Wednesday's security breach by the homeless man, one aviation security expert said nobody should have been able to walk through a guarded checkpoint. Lambert officials said guards were checking a vehicle on the entrance side when the man walked through the exit side.

"If you have a gate and you are moving vehicles through it, then you damn well better know who comes and goes," said Billie Vincent, president and CEO of Aerospace Services International Inc. in Chantilly, Va. "What happened in St. Louis shouldn't have happened."

Properly staffed gates should be adequate to keep trespassers off the airfield, Vincent said. But if someone can make it through the gates to an airplane, he can plant a bomb or hijack an aircraft, he warned.

Police said the homeless man apparently had no sinister motives; he wanted to get out of the rain and told police he was trying to get to Chicago.

Airport Police Chief Paul Mason could not be reached on Thursday. But earlier, he said his department intended to seek a trespassing warrant against the man.


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