U.S. News Headlines

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pilot rams plane into federal offices

An Austin man apparently angry with the Internal Revenue Services and the rest of the federal government flew his small, private plane into a glass-faced office building next to an Austin highway on Thursday killing himself and one other person in an explosive suicidal form of protest.

The office building housed an IRS office with about 200 employes.

Andrew Joseph Stack, III, lived on Dapplegrey Lane in Northwest Austin, in a medium-sized red brick house with standard lawn. At approximately 9:15 a.m. Elbert Hutchins, Stack’s neighbor who lives two doors south, heard an unusual noise he thought were windows blowing out of Stack’s house. He went outside and saw dense smoke rising with flames coming from the second story windows, after Stack allegedly set his home on fire.

Stack’s wife and daughter, aged 13, who stood watching as her house burned, according to several neighbors. Dane Vick, one of Stack’s neighbors, said he heard through another neighbor that as the house was burning, Stack’s daughter said her parents had argued Wednesday night and had stayed in another location that evening. They returned back to the home in the morning and continued to fight.

By 9:40 a.m. Stack had departed from Georgetown Municipal airport in his private Piper Dakota airplane, and headed south toward Austin.

Through the windows of Austin Echelon Building 1, at 9:55 a.m. office workers saw into the distance a small aircraft looming overhead. Within a minute the plane dove into the building’s first floor where the Internal Revenue Services office are located, sending flames throughout the seven-story structure.

Sounds of an explosion resounded in the halls of the building with people pooling into the streets, avoiding near destruction.

“It felt like an earthquake shaking the building,” said Dennis Files, an IRS employee for three years. “People started yelling for people to leave. Everyone started running outside — it was unbelievable.”

Only yards across in another building was a Federal Bureau of Investigations office with several agents. Near U.S. Route 183 and Mopac, the three-building plaza soon became the site of several cameras and people voicing concern that the next national terrorist attack had occurred.

Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services sent 24 personnel with several ambulances and special response vehicles to the scene. First responders treated 13 victims of burns and heat inhalation, two whose injuries were considered critical and were subsequently sent to University Medical Center at Brackenridge and Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio. One employee of the building was unaccounted for.

Emergency response was a coordinated effort among several agencies with the investigation led by the FBI.

“Today in the City of Austin we saw a deliberate and intentional act against a federal building,” said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, a member of the Committee on Homeland Security. “It’s something that has exposed a weakness we have seen since 9/11 — that airplanes can fly into buildings.”

One of Stack’s neighbors, who wished to remain anonymous because of his personal relationship to the Stack family, said he had known the family for years. He would join them on “Sunday night jams” listening to music crafted by Stack and his wife, Sheryl, who is a professional musician and a UT music performance graduate student.

The neighbor said Andrew Joseph Stack, III, was a software engineer who owned his own business and worked out of his house. The neighbor never noticed anything unusual about Stack, who he described as slight in build, 50 years old, with big glasses and balding with grey hair.

“I knew him just in passing, and I liked him,” the neighbor said. “He was a very likable person. Evidently Joe has some problems.”

Andrew Joseph Stack, III, was being audited by the IRS, and an apparent suicide note he had written disseminated throughout the Internet early Thursday morning.

In the note, he recalled a painful history of personal economic plunders and a particular tax law that he said left him penniless. He cited the federal bailouts of large companies, such as General Motors and bankrupt airlines.

“Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities...and when it’s time for the gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficult coming to their aid within days if not hours?” he wrote in his note.

He wrote about the .COM bust, 9/11 and an elderly woman and her husband he knew in his youth who never received pension or medical care after the man had retired.

The White House announced on Thursday afternoon that the incident was not an act of terrorism.

“There really is no cause for alarm,” said APD Chief Art Acevedo. “We are very lucky. We have been blessed — things could have been a lot worse. I call it a cowardly, intentional criminal act, and there is no excuse for it.”