Balloon flight should land better oversight of Heene family

The infamous Colorado balloon hoax appears to be drifting toward a conclusion, now that Richard and Mayumi Heene have pleaded guilty to falsely reporting that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was trapped in a small weather balloon that was accidentally released from the couple’s Fort Collins home.

A judge in Fort Collins is to sentence the two Dec. 23, and Richard deserves to spend some time in jail, since he is the one who apparently concocted the knuckleheaded stunt as a means to draw media attention and, it was hoped, help the Heenes land a contract for a television reality show.

Richard pleaded guilty Friday to the more serious charge: knowingly and falsely influencing Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden, which is a felony. He could receive jail time, and he deserves a short sentence, if only to reinforce to him that it is wrong to try to use public servants and public resources as your personal marketing agency. He may also have to pay as much as $62,000 as restitution for the cost of the search for the balloon and the anticipated rescue of Falcon, who was actually hiding in the family garage, not in the balloon.

Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of knowingly filing a false report with emergency services. She could also face a short jail sentence. But the consequence for Mayumi could be much more serious. She is a citizen of Japan, not the United States, and could be deported for violating the law, although that is less likely with a misdemeanor conviction than a felony.

We hope that doesn’t happen. The last thing Falcon and his brothers need now, amid all the media attention and criminal sanctions from the balloon hoax, is to have their mother shipped thousands of miles away.

But the Heene children clearly need some responsible authority figures in their lives. That was absent as Richard dragged them and Mayumi around the country in search of elusive television celebrity, pulled them out of school to join him as amateur storm trackers and recruited them to appear in a wildly inappropriate rap video.

No jail sentence or fine can instill a dose of common sense in a father — and to a lesser extent, a mother — when that is clearly lacking. That’s why any sentence Judge Stephen Schapanski hands down Dec. 23 should include a Christmas present for the Heene boys — some sort of official oversight that ensures the youngsters’ lives aren’t thrown into disarray again, the next time their father has what he believes is a brilliant idea.


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