Sunday, October 18, 2009

FREAK OF THE WEEK: “Balloon Dad” Richard Heene

Sometimes, the FredBlog has to dig deep to award its “Freak of the Week” honor. And then sometimes, freaks crawl out of the woodwork, clawing their way to victory.

“Balloon Dad” Richard Heene is one such freak.

If you’ve been living under a rock, then you probably missed last Thursday’s worldwide fascination with a runaway flying-saucer-looking homemade helium balloon that made its way more than 50 miles across the Colorado skies, temporarily closing Denver International Airport – and presumably carrying a 6-year-old boy ironically named Falcon.

Turns out the boy wasn’t in the balloon – so the media calling him “Balloon Boy” is just plain wrong. But was that the end of the story? Nope, the freakiness didn’t end there.

The boy was hiding in a cardboard box in the attic of the family home, even though parents Richard and Mayumi Heene said they had searched the house and couldn’t find their son anywhere.

Talk of a hoax began almost immediately.

The Heenes, as it happens, had appeared on two episodes of the trashy reality TV show, “Wife Swap.” So, they weren’t at all camera shy when it came to talking about their balloon buffoonery on the air.

But that didn’t go well. First, during a group interview with all three of their sons on CNN, when Falcon was asked why he didn’t come out of hiding during the balloonery, he turned to this father and said, “You said we did this for a show.”

Then, sadly and strangely, on Friday morning show interviews on both NBC and ABC, Falcon puked. You’d think that after the boy blew chunks on the first show, the family wouldn’t put him on the second! But they did. In fact, they didn’t even blink when he upchucked on ABC, with host Diane Sawyer showing more concern for the boy than his parents did.

Then on Saturday, Richard Heene called a press conference in front of the family home, only to tell the media that he would only be answering questions submitted in writing and placed in a cardboard box (the same one Falcon was hiding in?).

Through it all, the Heenes insisted this was no hoax.

Then on Sunday, police announced that it was indeed a hoax – and that the couple could face felony charges.

According to Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden, the stunt two weeks in the planning was a marketing ploy by the couple, who met in acting school in Hollywood. The Heenes have also been working on a reality TV deal in Los Angeles, reported the Associated Press.

The sheriff said that the couple could face charges of conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, making a false report to authorities and attempting to influence a public servant. Federal charges were also possible. The most serious charges reportedly carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

So where were Richard and Mayumi Heene while the sheriff was making this announcement? Shopping for snacks at Wal-Mart. (Insert your own white-trash joke here!)

Sheriff Alderden noted that Richard Heene claims to be a storm chaser and inventor and has described himself as an amateur scientist. But Alderden said Heene has only a high school education.

"He may be nutty, but he's not a professor," Alderden said.

A good line for a bad balloon trick.

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