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Family reports that student in chase, plane incident has mental illness

 Posted: 6:55 PM February 22, 2012

Yazeed Abunayyan, a 19-year-old student who fled from Ashland police Sunday and then disrupted a flight from Portland Tuesday, suffers from schizophrenia and has not taken his medication for the last three weeks, said his cousin and acquaintances living in Ashland.

"I tried to stop him, but I could not," said Fahad Alsubaie, his 21-year-old cousin, a Saudi Arabian exchange student studying English at Southern Oregon University.

Alsubaie said he was the person hanging out of the driver's side window trying to pull the key out of the car's ignition while Abunayyan was driving away from police in the Safeway parking lot Sunday night. Abunayyan led police on a 20-minute chase during which he rammed two police cars before being apprehended.

Alsubaie also was the person escorted off a Continental Airlines flight with Abunayyan in Portland Tuesday night, Alsubaie said.

The pilot of Flight 1118 turned the plane around about a half an hour after taking off for Houston from the Portland International Airport because Abunayyan refused to turn off an electronic cigarette, according to a federal indictment.

Alsubaie said his cousin lit the cigarette after a flight attendant confronted the pair for sitting together, because Alsubaie was in the wrong seat.

"I was going to ride back with him, just to make sure he was safe €… they didn't want us to sit together," said Alsubaie. "When they asked him to stop the cigarette €… he just went crazy, I couldn't stop him."

Alsubaie said his cousin was flying back to Saudi Arabia to see his mother, who is very ill. Abunayyan had heard the news about his mother about a week ago.

In Ashland, Alsubaie made other attempts to stop Abunayyan while he was driving a silver Ford sedan erratically on Siskiyou Boulevard, he said, adding that he didn't see his cousin try to run over any pedestrians.

"When I asked him about what he did in Ashland, he said 'not me, other person inside me,'" said Alsubaie. "He thinks he has a different personality."

Helen Kallenbach, director of the Sonoma State American Language Institute at Sonoma State University, said Abunayyan started attending SSU as a Saudi Arabian international exchange student in September.

He was studying at the school's language institute in order to learn more English before beginning his classes at the university, she said.

He planned to major in English, said Alsubaie.

"He was very sweet €… but he was a pretty disturbed young man," said Kallenbach. "During the last week, he just started to crash and burn €… we had been concerned about him."

Kallenbach said she wouldn't discuss whether or not Abunayyan had behavioral problems at Sonoma State.

Ahmad Aljoaid, a 27-year-old senior at Southern Oregon University and president of the school's Saudi Student Association, said he met Abunayyan while the latter was visiting Ashland last weekend.

"He was an artist, and musician type," said Aljoaid, who met Abunayyan briefly. "It was that he was off his medication, and he became worse and worse. €… That's what happened."

— Sam Wheeler

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