Pilot in fatal Scottsdale plane crash had cocaine in system

Posted at 11:59 AM, Jun 28, 2018

(KGTV) - Autopsy results of a pilot aboard a small aircraft that crashed in Arizona this year killing six people, including a San Diego woman, had cocaine in his system.

An Arizona county medical examiner reported they found 0.04 MG/L of cocaine in 28-year-old James Pedroza's blood. He was the student pilot who was flying the plane that was headed for Las Vegas. 

A local drug abuse expert tells 10News although it is a small amount, it is possible Pedroza was still feeling the effects of the drug. He adds it's impossible to know how long before the flight the cocaine was ingested. 

"If he wasn't used to cocaine he could be feeling restless, irritable, fluttering heart, a variety of symptoms that wouldn't be good in any circumstance flying a plane," said Dr. Paul Little with the San Diego Addiction Treatment Center.  

Two pilots, a student pilot and a certified transport pilot, were onboard the Piper PA-24 Comanche aircraft, though investigators have not said which pilot was flying at the time, the Associated Press reported.

The flight was heading from Phoenix to Las Vegas before it crashed shortly after takeoff from Scottsdale Airport on April 9.


The National Transportation Safety Board's final report is not expected until later this year.

Two crew members and four passengers died in the crash: Erik Valente, 26; James Louis Pedroza, 28; Anand Anil Patel, 28; Helena Lagos, 22; Iris Carolina Rodriguez, 23; and San Diego-based Instagram model Mariah Sunshine Coogan, 23.

An NTSB preliminary report released in April indicated the plane struggled to gain altitude and was "rocking during and shortly after" takeoff. At one point, its wings "became nearly vertical."

Video later released showed the plane go down before erupting into a fireball. The aircraft could be seen traveling across the frame before its wings appear to go vertical and it disappears. Seconds later a flash of light appears over the horizon, followed by a ball of flames.

The cause of the crash has not been released.