Austin Plane Crash Has Silicon Valley Roots

Angry business owner pins the start of his troubles on failed Silicon Valley business venture

By Sajid Farooq
|  Thursday, Feb 18, 2010  |  Updated 3:32 PM PDT
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Austin Plane Crash Has Silicon Valley Roots

AP/KVUE-TV

In this image made from KVUE-TV video, smoke billows from a seven-story building after a small private plane crashed into the building in Austin, Texas Feb. 18.

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Before tech entrepreneur Joseph Andrew Stack crashed a small plane into a building that houses federal tax employees in Austin, Texas, he wrote an angry rant explaining his frustration with the Internal Revenue Service, authorities said.

His story is a glimpse into Silicon Valley’s dark side — the counterpart to bubbly IPOs and funding rounds, a reminder that so many startups fail, and that so many would-be innovators go astray.

In the 3,202 word manifesto posted on his company's website, Stack complains about corporate corruption while extolling the virtues of Communism. But tucked in the middle of the engineer's words is his connection to the Silicon Valley and how his time here started the events that drove him to Thursday's attack.

Stack started working as an engineer in 1983 and made his way to Southern California where he started his own company called Prowess Engineering. In 1998, Stack moved the then successful company north to "to take advantage of growth in the Silicon Valley."

But here is where the 54-years-old's troubles began, according to his own writings. After three years working in the Sacramento area and "after weathering a divorce," Stack wrote that his already struggling company was hit hard by a suddenly slow economy.

"Then came the .COM bust and the 911 nightmare," he wrote. "Our leaders decided that all aircraft were grounded for what seemed like an eternity; and long after that, ‘special' facilities like San Francisco were on security alert for months. This made access to my customers prohibitively expensive. Ironically, after what they had done the Government came to the aid of the airlines with billions of our tax dollars … as usual they left me to rot and die while they bailed out their rich, incompetent cronies WITH MY MONEY!"

Law enforcement officials say Stack was furious with the Internal Revenue Service and his writings show much of his trouble with money and the IRS started while working in the Silicon Valley.

Struggling to help his business recover, Stack invested much of his savings and retirement to move to Austin, Texas "for a change." But Stack said he never had such a difficult time finding work in an environment "where damn little real engineering work is done."

Stack wrote that he used the rest of his savings and retirement to survive and he did not file a tax return because he didn't have any income. Stack wrote the IRS came after him and forced him to '"bend over for another $10,000 helping of justice."

Stack’s tale is a sad one. But in his disturbed rantings, there’s a useful reminder: In Silicon Valley, “founder” has more than one meaning.

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