Second Business Partner: Balloon Dad 'Always Scheming'

Former colleague of Richard Heene believes launch was premeditated.

Oct. 16, 2009 — -- For the second time, a former colleague spoke out against Richard Heene, the father of "balloon boy" Falcon Heene, saying today that Thursday's balloon launch was likely a publicity stunt and that Heene has a history of putting his family in danger.

"I believe that Richard had a plan to send this craft aloft," said Scott Stevens, who used to work as a "storm chaser" with Heene. "Whether it was to leave the illusion that there was a boy on board, I don't know. [But] I believe it was a premeditated launch."

Not just a co-worker at the Science Detective Research Group in Fort Collins, Colo., Stevens said he was friends with Heene until the two had a falling out over Heene's insistence that his three young boys join them on dangerous storm searches where they "just did not need to be."

"I just thought he was beginning to push them into some things that were ethically on the edge. ... I knew at some point he would create a situation that would bring attention like he's having right now. I didn't want to be a part of that," Stevens said.

Although the Heene family is no stranger to publicity, having been featured on the ABC show "Wife Swap," Richard Heene told "Good Morning America" today that any speculation that it was all a publicity stunt was "extremely pathetic.

"We were holding on to every second, hoping that he's OK," Heene told "Good Morning America" today. "I'm not selling anything. This is what we do all the time. I don't have a can of beans I'm trying to promote."

Investigators do not believe the balloon launch was any kind of hoax but plan to reinterview the family today, search leader Sheriff Jim Alderden of Larimer County told "Good Morning America" today.

Stevens said it was also possible Heene videotaped the launch as protection against having the idea for the balloon, which he built, stolen.

"[Richard] is always thinking and always scheming to accomplish his goals," Stevens said. "He's had some wonderful ideas that he's had stolen from him. ... He thinks that if he can have this attention on him and share his ideas, he could get something out of it," Stevens said.

Stevens' comments come a day after another one of his and Heene's colleagues, Barbara Slusser, told ABC News Heene "put the kids in the line of fire a bit too much.

"The last straw for us was when Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike were heading toward the Texas coastline and Heene wanted to go back there and take the kids," she said Thursday. "Those kids went everywhere with us. We took those kids tornado chasing."

But the kids' inclusion was hardly against their will, Slusser said.

"They loved it. They grew up doing this," she said. "[Richard] raised those kids to be scientists, and he wanted them to be scientists and expose them to science at every possible level."

CLICK HERE to view a YouTube video made by Falcon Heene and his brothers.

Child Safety Experts: Parents Can Never Be Too Vigilant

Although Heene's story had a happy ending, child safety experts said the incident underscored the vigilance parents must exercise to keep children safe and avoid tragedy.

Heene's neighbor, Tina Sanchez, told ABC News Thursday that Falcon is "a great kid, very adventurous, and has no fear factor. For him to climb into this balloon would not be out of character. He has a high tolerance for cold, often running around without a jacket."

Slusser said that Heene had no degrees in science but liked to surround himself with people who did, like Slusser.

"He raised those kids to be scientists, and he wanted them to be scientists and exposed them to science at every possible level," said Slusser.

"He loves those kids and his wife loves those kids, but I don't think they know boundaries -- especially Richard," said Slusser.

Slusser said she hoped Falcon -- known by friends and family as "Falcy" -- was simply hiding, and as it later turned out, he was.

Parents and child safety experts said parents can never be too vigilant with their young children.

Accidents and unintentional injuries are the No. 1 cause of death among young children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each year, the CDC reports 4,631 deaths among children aged 1 to 4, and another 6,149 deaths among children aged 5 to 14.

"This is obviously an unusual case," said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

"If you were to think of this generically as being curious and exploring the environment and copying what you are seeing adults do and not seeing danger, this is a typical scenario," he said. "Child safety is an afterthought."

Smith said that while supervision is important in guarding a child's safety, it cannot be a parent's sole strategy.

"You can't watch a child 100 percent of the time," said Smith, who is past chairman of the American Association of Pediatrics' committee on injury, violence and poison prevention.

"If you rely on constant vigilance, it's going to fail," Smith told "We have to take care of our other kids and cook dinner."

Keeping Kids Safe

What parents need to do is to address the dangers in the environment in what he calls an "automatic passive prevention system."

"You don't do things that invite an opportunity for a child to put himself in harm's way," he said. "Keep things locked up, install mechanisms children can't defeat."

Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico, agreed.

Today's balloon incident "highlights the need for constant vigilance," he told "Six-year-olds are curious, and given the opportunity, these things will happen."

"I think every parent has a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God moment," said Hoffman. "Events like this reinforce we can never afford to get complacent with the safety of our children.

A typical 6-year-old is in kindergarten or the first grade, and boys tend to be the most adventurous, according to Hoffman.

"The most common injuries are falls out of trees and on trampolines," he said. "Young school-age kids get into kitchen and garage tools, crawl into trunks and get trapped in confined spaces, because they like to investigate how the world works."

His advice to parents is to "be as prepared as you possibly can. It's a balance between giving kids freedom and opportunity."