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Issues surrounding DIA employee parking lot give context to pilot's axe attack

Denver7 Investigates uncovered more than three dozen complaints from employees at Denver International Airport.
Pilot body cam
DIA parking lot gate
Posted at 9:45 PM, Nov 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-17 18:01:06-05

DENVER — The pilot who took an axe to a Denver International Airport parking lot gate was not alone in his frustrations, confirmed by more than three dozen complaints uncovered by Denver7 Investigates at the same parking lot.

In August, the Denver-based pilot was caught on surveillance video hacking at the gate. Following the incident, the pilot told police he "hit his breaking point."

Body camera footage obtained exclusively by Denver7 Investigates and complaints from fellow employees give context to the pilot's axe attack.

"Man, I am happy to talk," the pilot said during an interview with police the day of the incident. "Everyone has a limit, and it is reached at different, you know, different levels. I just happened to hit mine this afternoon. Just happened to be the parking lot... and the exit wasn't working. That's it."

Back in March, the airport relocated its employee parking lot, including a new scanning system for cars to enter and exit.

"It was just lines and lines of cars when it first started," one employee told Denver7 Investigates.

"They need to try to make sure that everybody can get to work on time and not have to leave earlier," another employee said. "I used to leave 45 minutes. I leave an hour and a half early now."

An open records request obtained by Denver7 Investigates unveiled complaints about not only the scanner system but an unreliable bus schedule.

One complaint reads, "I have to arrive to the parking lot each morning over an hour before my shift at the airport, because I simply cannot rely on the bus 'schedule.'"

Another complainant wrote, "How can we, as employees at DIA, continue to be made late by the incredibly inconsistent parking situation?"

"Maybe @denairport should fix the f***n problem and quit treating the airport employees like garbage... Quit pushing everyone to their ax-wielding breaking point," another complaint reads.

Denver7 Investigates captured issues at the lot over several weeks, including the gate's arm not opening, drivers backing up, changing lanes, and pushing the call button for help. Graffiti on one call box reads "piece of sh**."

Parking lot customers aren't the only ones sharing in frustration. A body camera interview from the day of the axe attack shows illuminating comments from an airport parking lot service agent.

"I work for Landside Parking and we monitor the lots... We've been on special duty letting these a**holes out," he said. "So for four days, we've been standing out here letting these a**holes out. And the pilots have been the worst."

The pilot told police he was trying to resolve a problem for himself and his fellow colleagues, according to body camera footage.

"The barriers weren't working. There was a pretty long line in all three lanes because of the sensors, and the barriers and the exit wasn't working," the pilot said. "I was trying to enable people, including myself, but everyone, to get out of the lot."

Mark Nagel, senior vice president of parking and commercial transportation for DIA, said airport leadership knew about the issues at the lot weeks before the pilot's axe came down. Denver7 Investigates asked Nagel if he assumes any responsibility for the pilot's frustrations.

"I think there are frustrations of going to an old system to a new system. So I think there, the frustrations are shared by all of us," Nagel said. "I think there's responsibility on everybody's part. I'll take responsibility."

Nagel said the service agent's comments also point to a problem.

"It's very concerning," he said. "I personally talked to that employee about how he treats the employees in that lot and how he has to conduct himself as a city employee representing our department."

Nagel also said he's worked to fix the issues at the new employee parking lot.

"Fixing it... that's my commitment. And if I hear more concerns, it's my commitment we will address those issues and fix those," he said.

In recent weeks, the airport has kept its promise to make significant changes, including a reworked bus schedule and additional attention to the exit gates. Employees tell Denver7 Investigates things are running much smoother.

The pilot's attorney declined to comment on this story. The pilot's misdemeanor charges will be dropped upon court-ordered completion of a 12-month diversion program. He remains off the schedule at United Airlines awaiting an internal investigation.

Issues surrounding DIA employee parking lot give context to pilot's axe attack

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