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California man jailed after sharp sound, Las Vegas airport panic

AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File
FILE - In this June 9, 2012 file photo, visitors tour the then-new Terminal 3 at Reid International Airport in Las Vegas.

A California man jailed in Las Vegas on suspicion of causing a loud noise that sparked panic and travel delays Sunday at Harry Reid International Airport had been arrested at the airport less than 24 hours earlier for allegedly causing a disturbance near a ticket counter, a police official said Monday.

The sharp sound of a door closing or a trash can toppling — apparently mistaken for gunfire — caused passengers to abandon security lines about 4:30 a.m. Sunday. More loud noises reverberated through the airport’s busy Terminal 1 as metal posts were knocked over in the chaos, Las Vegas police Officer Larry Hadfield said.

Stefan Mathias Hutchison’s alleged role causing the sound was not immediately described.

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“The initial sound was a door or trash can falling,” Hadfield said. “That triggered patrons to leave lines, which caused stanchions to fall, causing a succession of loud sounds.”

No serious injuries were reported by airport officials, but social media posts showed people running and, later, crowded in concourses of the terminal that serves most domestic flights.

Dozens of commercial flights in and out of Las Vegas were canceled or delayed throughout the day, and thousands of people were affected. Passengers who had been screened by Transportation Security Administration were required to re-screen at security checkpoints before boarding their flights.

Hutchison, 33, of Carmichael, California, was taken into custody at the airport on a felony burglary charge and held at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas pending a court appearance, records showed. Hutchison was not armed, Hadfield said.

On Saturday, Hutchison had been arrested about 8:30 a.m. on misdemeanor misconduct and resisting an officer charges, and freed from jail without bail later that day. The initial police call in that case was about a possible airport security breach, Hadfield said.

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On Monday, Hutchison refused to be taken from the jail to appear before a judge. Court records showed he was rescheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning. A deputy public defender who was appointed temporarily to represent him did not immediately respond to messages.

Airport spokesman Joe Rajchel said Monday he had no information about people injured in the chaos. He said operations had returned to normal. Reid airport is one of the 10 busiest airports in the world, according to the trade group Airports Council International.

“While Sunday’s incident was a false alarm, the response to any given situation is unique and will be informed by the confirmed details available in real time,” the airport said in a statement.