Friend says Colo. father at center of balloon saga was ’seeking fame’, evasive when questionedBy P. Solomon Banda, AP
Friday, October 23, 2009
Balloon boy dad was evasive when asked by friend
FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The father at the center of a runaway balloon investigation grew evasive when a friend asked him whether the saga that gripped millions was a hoax, the friend said.
Dean Askew told The Associated Press late Thursday that he picked up Richard Heene from the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department Oct. 17, two days after the balloon incident.
“I said, ‘Richard, here’s the thing, you know, I need to know what’s really going on so I don’t put my family in harm’s way,’” Askew said. “And then he’s like, ‘What do you mean?’
“Is this a hoax?” Askew recalled saying. “Be honest, tell the truth man, damn, don’t drag all these people through that. … And he switched to something else.”
Askew — who took care of two of the couple’s sons while authorities frantically searched for a third, 6-year-old Falcon — said Heene refused to answer or look at him.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kathy Messick said Friday that Askew met voluntarily with an investigator on Thursday but was not under suspicion.
Sheriff Jim Alderden has said Heene and his wife, Mayumi, are under investigation for allegedly reporting that Falcon was aboard the runaway balloon in a stunt to generate publicity for a proposed reality TV show. Criminal charges could be filed next week. The couple denies wrongdoing.
Alderden said the alleged hoax was at least two weeks in the making and that investigators were looking for potential accomplices — including the possibility that a media outlet offered the Heenes money for their story.
Askew told Pete Mesecher, a sheriff’s investigator who showed up at Askew’s house during the AP interview, that he “had nothing to do with it.”
Robert Thomas, who describes himself as an entrepreneur and college student, told investigators Sunday that he helped record Heene’s ideas for a TV show, according to Thomas’ attorney, Linda Lee. Lee said Heene had discussed a hoax involving a balloon but that Thomas had no idea any hoax would involve Heene’s children.
Askew said his sons became friends with the Heene boys shortly after the Heenes moved into the Fort Collins neighborhood in 2007.
Richard Heene would occasionally help with home repairs, Askew said. He refused to accept money.
“People look out for each other like that, especially in this time of a recession,” Askew said.
During the balloon chase, Askew said, he took care of the two Heene boys at the request of a victims advocate. Askew relayed the news to Brad and Ryo, the other Heene boys, that Falcon was found at home and was OK.
“They both got happy as can be,” Askew said.
On Oct. 17, Richard Heene called Askew from the sheriff’s department and asked if he could drive the couple home.
With reporters at the front entrance, sheriff’s officials offered Heene the option of leaving by a private exit.
“He was adamant about going out in front,” Askew said. “Then it just dawned on me. This man is seeking fame. … I got angry. … I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t want to take the safe route.”
Unable to return to home because investigators were executing a search warrant, the Heenes waited at Askew’s house. Askew said the couple told him they took a lie detector test at the sheriff’s office.
Alderden said he could not comment.
Tags: Colorado, Fort Collins, North America, Reality Tv, Television Programs, United States