Iraq war vet says he used ladders to help free people from burning office targeted by plane

By Kelley Shannon, AP
Friday, February 19, 2010

Army vet used helped rescue people from building

AUSTIN, Texas — Robin De Haven was driving his truck to another job for the glass company he works for when he saw something that didn’t look right — a small plane, flying extremely low over a heavily congested area of Austin.

The 28-year-old Iraq war veteran recalled Friday that he then saw black smoke billowing from the office building and rushed to the scene. A pilot furious at the Internal Revenue Service had slammed his plane into the building Thursday where about 200 IRS employees worked, killing himself and one other person.

De Haven said when he pulled up to the burning building he saw five people peeking through the broken glass. He hurled his 17-foot ladder off his truck and onto the building, helping to rescue them as thick smoke poured into the air.

“I wanted to go help,” De Haven told The Associated Press. “I thought, ‘I’m going to go ahead and do it.’ I thought my boss would understand.”

De Haven retold his rescue efforts outside the hulking black-glass Echelon 1 building Friday as police and fire investigators picked through the wreckage. Arson crews also inspected pilot Andrew Joseph Stack III’s red brick home about six miles away — which Stack apparently set on fire before taking off in his plane Thursday morning.

Stack posted an angry anti-government manifesto on a Web site registered to him before he flew a single engine plane into the building.

Stack, 53, apparently targeted the building’s lower floors, which housed the IRS offices. U.S. law enforcement officials said they were trying to determine if Stack put anything in the plane to worsen the damage caused by the impact and fire.

One law enforcement official also said investigators were trying to find out if a marital dispute precipitated Stack’s angry suicide mission. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Standing across the street from Stack’s fire-damaged home, a representative for Stack’s wife, Sheryl Stack, issued a statement on her behalf Friday. Rayford Walker said he had been asked by the family to distribute the statement.

“Words cannot adequately express my sorrow or the sympathy I feel for everyone affected by this unimaginable tragedy,” the statement read. “Due to the ongoing investigation related to this tragedy, I feel it is best to make no comment beyond this statement and to not respond to questions of any nature.”

Stack took off from an airport in Georgetown, about 30 miles from Austin, and flew low over the Austin skyline before plowing into the side of the building just before 10 a.m. Thursday. Flames shot from the building, windows exploded and terrified workers rushed to get out.

Emergency crews originally said people were missing inside the building, but later recovered two bodies. Austin Fire Department Battalion Chief Palmer Buck declined to discuss the identities of those found, but said authorities had now “accounted for everybody.”

Thirteen people were injured, authorities said. One man remained hospitalized Friday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio with burns and was in stable condition, the hospital said.

Authorities have credited numerous stories of heroism for keeping the death toll so low in the crash. A glass workers union said Friday it wants to honor De Haven in Washington, D.C., and the company he works for said it has been flooded with phone calls and e-mails calling him a hero.

De Haven said after he extended his ladder and climbed to the second floor, he realized his ladder was unsteady and he couldn’t help people down on it. So, he said he climbed inside the building and helped find a better escape route.

Once inside, he found four men and a woman were trapped inside and smoke was seeping in from the hallway.

De Haven and another man in the office broke open a window with an iron rod and made their way to a lower ledge where the ladder would be more secure.

“I don’t feel like a hero,” he said. “I was just trying to help,” he said.

Some who knew Stack said he offered little hint of his anger toward the government and the IRS.

“He didn’t rant about anything,” said Pam Parker, an Austin attorney whose husband played in a band with Stack. “He wasn’t obsessed with the government or any of that. … Not a loner, not off in a corner. He had friends and conversation and ordinary stuff.”

But in his self-described “rant,” Stack fumed about the IRS and wrote, “Nothing changes unless there is a body count.” Stack also railed against “big brother,” the Catholic Church, the “unthinkable atrocities” committed by big business and the governments bailouts that followed.

In the note, signed “Joe Stack (1956-2010)” and dated Thursday, he said he slowly came to the conclusion that “violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”

Stack’s father-in-law, Jack Cook, told The New York Times that he knew Stack had a “hang-up” with the IRS and his marriage had been strained. His wife had taken her daughter to a hotel to get away from Stack on Wednesday night, the newspaper said.

A few hundred people had joined Facebook pages by Friday honoring Stack, including one that said while it didn’t agree with Stack’s actions, it sympathizes with his thoughts on the government.

Associated Press writers April Castro and Jim Vertuno in Austin; Michelle Roberts in Georgetown; Linda Stewart Ball, Danny Robbins, Jeff Carlton and John McFarland in Dallas; Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report, along with the AP News Research Center.

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