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Town Justice Uses Piloting Skills to Give Back

Sal Lagonia, a long-time Yorktown resident and town justice, transports sick patients to hospitals in his airplane.

Sal Lagonia has an impressive resumé—he's a former police officer, an attorney, and a judge at the Yorktown Justice Court. It was a hobby, however, that led him to some of the most rewarding work he has done.

Lagonia began flying in 1980, and now as a member of Angel Flight and PALS (Patient Airlift Services), he transports sick patients who can't afford airfare to hospitals for medical treatment.

"It seemed to me that their mission was extremely important," said Lagonia, who has lived in Yorktown for 32 years. "We have many pilots in the area who give of their time and aircraft to help transport sick children and adults that cannot afford airfare, or who simply could not sit on an airliner for long periods."

He also provides transportation for military people on leave so they can visit their families. The pilots pay all expenses, he said. While fuel is expensive, some airports waive any landing fees for charity missions.

"It is a charity that I get much more from than I can ever give," he said. 

Lagonia's most memorable flight was transporting a young man from Ghana to a hospital in Boston. Lagonia said he put the young man in the back seat of the plane and gave him a set of headphones so he could hear Lagonia and his co-pilot as they flew above a broken cloud layer at 10,000 feet. The man was trying to see the ground, and Lagonia said he remembers him having a big smile on his face and laughing at every joke that was told. 

"We laughed all the way to Boston," Lagonia said. "When we landed, I noticed that the headset wire had not been connected to the aircraft sound system."

In addition, the young man did not speak much English.

"He hadn't heard one joke," Lagonia said. "He was just laughing because he was having fun flying. Flying allowed him to forget his illness, even if it was for just an hour. And we communicated by laughing together. He made my day!"

Lagonia's drive to help people started early on. He started as a police officer in 1980 in New Castle in the Juvenile Division. He then decided to continue his education and was encouraged by a local judge to go to law school.

"It was almost an overnight decision," he said.

Lagonia was admitted to the bar in New York, in the Federal District Court and in the Supreme Court of the United States. In 2008, he became president of the Westchester Bar Association, one of the 60 largest local bar associations in the country.

"I have always enjoyed working with people and helping them when they have problems," he said. "I did that as a police officer and now, as a lawyer. We try to help people work through their legal issues."

Currently Lagonia practices family law, real estate law, aviation law and business law. "Many clients eventually become friends," he said. "I like that the most about my practice."

Working as a judge at the Yorktown Court is also rewarding, he said.

"To know that you can make a big difference in the life of so many people as well as our community is extremely satisfying," he said. 

Besides flying, Lagonia's other passion is music. He plays trumpet, piano and guitar.

"I try and play almost every day and find it extremely relaxing," he said. "I played for many years in bands and orchestras and always jump at requests to perform. I was even asked to do a recording for a movie a few years ago, which didn't win any awards, but I had fun with it."

Lagonia is also a captain in the local Civil Air Patrol group as their JAG (legal) officer and a professor of Aviation Law for the City University of New York once a week. 

His wife Loretta, who runs his law office, is an adjunct professor at Mercy College's master's program. He has three grown children and a family Puggle named Pudge.

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Robert Solari March 02, 2011 at 03:06 AM
Please keep up the excellent work! We need more people like you.

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