Parents in Runaway Balloon Case Will Surrender, Lawyer Says

By | October 19, 2009

The Colorado parents accused of concocting a publicity stunt by pretending that their young son had climbed aboard a homemade helium balloon and was hurtling through the skies above Fort Collins, Colo., will voluntarily surrender to authorities as soon as charges are filed, which is expected to happen on Wednesday, the lawyer for the father said Monday morning.

David Lane, a Colorado civil rights lawyer who is representing Richard Heene, said both Mr. Heene and his wife, Mayumi, would plead not guilty and would turn themselves in to avoid further public spectacle.

Mr. Lane contended that placing handcuffs on the Heenes, in the full glare of the news media and for their children to see, would be abusive to the youngsters. The case became a nationally televised spectacle last Thursday, when the Heenes frantically reported that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, had climbed into the silver flying saucer his father had built in the backyard and drifted into the sky.

Television images of the balloon with the boy thought to be aboard prompted a massive search and rescue operation. But when the contraption landed more than 60 miles way, Falcon was not in it. Hours later, he emerged from a crawl space above an attic in the garage of the Heenes’ home, where he had apparently been hiding the entire time.

After initially believing the Heenes’ story, investigators grew suspicious after Falcon, in an interview on “Larry King Live,” said to his father, “You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.”

The Heenes, who had appeared on the show “Wife Swap,” have made no secret of their television aspirations, and Falcon’s remark prompted authorities to reinterview the parents. At a news conference Sunday, the Larimer County sheriff, Jim Alderden, said that the entire series of events had been an elaborate hoax drummed up by the Heenes to gain attention.

Among the charges the Heenes might face, the sheriff said, are three felonies: conspiracy to commit a crime, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and attempt to influence a public servant. The last carries a possible prison term of six years.

Mr. Lane said that he had not seen any evidence gathered by authorities, and that he hoped the Sheriff’s Department would give the Heenes a chance to turn themselves in given the intense news media interest in the case. Ms. Heene was being represented by a lawyer from Fort Collins, Lee E. Christian.

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