Plane crash pilot's background probed

Image: Austin man flies plane into IRS building.
Bystanders watch as firefighters battle the blaze at the Echelon building in Austin, after a small plane crashed into it Thursday.Bob Pearson / EPA
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Police and fire investigators Friday picked through the wreckage of an office building to try to piece together why a pilot with a grudge against the IRS crashed his plane into the multistory structure housing government tax employees.

Investigators also were at Joseph Stack's home about six miles away — which Stack apparently set fire to before taking off in his plane Thursday.

Stack and another man — believed to be an IRS employee who worked in the office building — were killed in the crash. Stack had a long-running dispute with the IRS.

Investigators were trying to find out if marital problems contributed to his apparent suicide mission.

The pilot's father-in-law, Jack Cook, told The New York Times that Stack had a "hang-up" with the IRS and his marriage was strained. His wife, Sheryl Stack, had taken her daughter to a hotel to get away from Stack on Wednesday night, the newspaper said.

U.S. law enforcement officials also said they were trying to determine if Stack put anything in the plane to worsen the damage caused by the impact and fire.

'Unimaginable tragedy'
Sheryl Stack released a statement Friday in which she expressed sorrow "for everyone affected by this unimaginable tragedy."

"Due to the ongoing investigation related to this tragedy, I feel it best to make no comment beyond this statement and to not respond to questions of any nature," she said.

Sheryl Stack released the statement through someone she hired, Rayford Walker — who passed out paper copies to the media outside a house near the one authorities said her husband torched just before crashing his plane, KXAN reported.

This undated photo provided by Pam Parker on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010 shows Joseph Stack. Officials identified Stack as the pilot of a small plane that crashed into an Austin, Texas office building containing nearly 200 IRS employees. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Pam Parker) NO SALESAP

Of the more than a dozen people injured, one man remained hospitalized Friday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio with burns and was stable.

Stack, 53, apparently authored a six-page anti-government message posted before the crash on a Web site registered to him.

"If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, 'Why did this have to happen?' The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time," the message begins.

The Web message was dated Thursday and signed "Joe Stack (1956-2010)."

Hours after posting it, authorities say, Stack set fire to his home, drove to a municipal airport, got into his single-engine Piper Cherokee and deliberately crashed it into the Ecehelon building.

'Intentional act'Stack's body was presumed to be one of two pulled from the crash site late Thursday, federal law enforcement officials said.

The identity of the other body was not immediately released. Family and friends said an IRS worker, Vernon Hunter, 67, was missing but authorities could not confirm he was the victim.

The crash caused a raging fire that sent black smoke billowing from the office building. The fire was extinguished hours later.

Austin police Chief Art Acevedo on Thursday said the crash "appears to be an intentional act."

"It would appear to be by a sole individual, and it appears this individual was targeting federal offices inside that building," Acevedo said.

The FBI was taking over the investigation.

About 190 IRS employees work in the building, IRS spokesman Richard C. Sanford said.

The pilot, listed in FAA and property records as Andrew Joseph Stack III of Austin and identified by law enforcement sources as Joseph Stack, apparently was angry for years at the IRS.

In the Internet message, Stack outlined a litany of problems with the IRS and said violence "is the only answer."

The Web site was taken offline Thursday afternoon by the hosting company at the request of the FBI.

Pilot's backgroundAccording to California Secretary of State records, Stack had a troubled business history, twice starting software companies that ultimately were suspended by the state's Franchise Tax Board.

He started Software Systems Service Corp. in Lincoln, Calif., but that business license was suspended in 2004 for nonpayment of back taxes totaling $1,153, KCRA-TV in Sacramento reported. Another company, Prowless Engineering Inc. was suspended in 2000 for failure to file a 1994 tax return, according to KCRA.

Stack listed himself as chief executive officer of both companies.

According to records, Stackapparently moved to the Austin area around 2003 and ran Embedded Art, a small, independent software firm specializing in "process control and automation" and "complex software engineering development tasks."

In his 3,200-word statement posted on the company's Web site early Thursday morning, Stack appeared to blame the IRS for the loss of tens of thousands in savings and retirement money over the years.

Administrative records show the Web site was registered to Joe Stack of San Marcos, Texas, in 2006.

'Unthinkable atrocities'
Stack said his "nightmare" with the federal government dated to the early 1980s.

In one passage, Stack writes: “That little lesson in patriotism cost me $40,000+, 10 years of my life, and set my retirement plans back to 0. It made me realize for the first time that I live in a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie."

He also wrote: "Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it's time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours?"

Toward the end, he wrote, “I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different.  I am finally ready to stop this insanity.  Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”