Plane crash into Austin building claimed local man’s close friend

By MIKE BROWN Reporter Editor

Larry Jackson of Rockdale holds front page that told story of tragedy that claimed his friend’s life. Repoter/Mike Brown Larry Jackson of Rockdale holds front page that told story of tragedy that claimed his friend’s life. Repoter/Mike Brown When Larry Jackson of Rockdale was last with his good friend Vernon Hunter of Austin, a Valentine’s Day lunch with their wives, they laughed a lot in talking about future plans.

Jackson is retired and Hunter was thinking about it. “We said ‘we’ve got all the time in the world’,” Jackson said.

Four days later Hunter was dead, the only fatality among 200 employees of Austin’s IRS facility, severely damaged when Andrew Joseph Stack III flew his airplane into the building.

“Just like that he was gone,” Jackson recalled. “It’s still hard to believe. We just keep coming back to that. He was the only one.”

‘Back to the window’

Jackson knows exactly what happened to his friend.

“He was sitting with his back to the window,” Jackson said. “He always did.

“The woman in the next office saw the plane coming and screamed for everyone to run but the door was closed and he probably just didn’t hear it until it was too late.”

The plane crashed into the building at 9:56 a.m.

“They didn’t find Vernon’s body until 5 p.m.,” Jackson said.

Jackson and wife Sandra spent all day Friday and Saturday at the Cedar Park home of Hunter’s widow Valerie and their family.

“People have just been wonderful to them,” Jackson said.

‘Friends from the start’

The Jacksons and Hunters attend Greater Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Austin.

“It’s kind of funny how we got together,” Jackson recalled. “The pastor’s wife was flying back into Austin and several in the congregation went out to meet her.”

“I couldn’t go but Sandra did and she met Vernon and Val, got to talking with them and told Vernon ‘you act like my husband; I think you’d like him’.”

“Not long af ter t hey were leaving the 8 a.m. service at our church and we were just coming in for the 10 a.m.,” Jackson said, “We almost literally bumped into each other.

“It was one of those things where it was like we’d known them all our lives,” Jackson said. “We were friends from the start.”

Last time

The couples went to a formal dress party at the Hilton together and formed a close friendship.

“They were with us when Sandra and I celebrated our 39th anniversary,” Jackson said.

The Jacksons and Hunters had made plans to eat at Pappadeaux’s, an Austin Cajun restaurant, after church on Valentine’s Day.

“Val wasn’t feeling well and didn’t come to church,” Jackson said. “That’s when we were laughing about us all going out some other time and telling each other we had all the time in the world.”

But Vernon Hunter drove back home, picked up his wife and switched vehicles so they could show the Jacksons the new car he’d gotten Valerie for Valentine’s Day.

“We had a great time,” Jackson said. “We always did with them.”

‘Didn’t make it’

Four days later Jackson heard about the plane crashing into the building.

Valerie Hunter also worked in the IRS offices at the Echelon Building.

“I didn’t know anything, of course, so I called their house, someone answered the phone and I first asked to speak to Val,” Jackson said.

“They said she wasn’t feeling too well. So then I asked to talk to Vernon,” he added. “They said ‘Vernon didn’t make it’.”

Jackson dropped the phone.

“I hollered for Sandra,” Jackson said. “That’s when I knew Vernon was the one who got killed.”

‘Two more years’

The Hunters and Jacksons had made plans to get together in Rockdale but it never quite happened.

“He came to our house to see me once and I was gone,” Jackson said. “But we were always talking about it.”

Jack son was also nudging Hunter toward retirement. “He’d worked for the IRS more than 20 years and he was talking about putting in two of three more and then retiring,” Jackson said.

“I told him retirement was great,” Jackson said. “I said you wake up, look over at your wife, know she’s going to go to work and tell her, ‘I think I’ll go walking this morning’.”

Jackson shook his head. Remembering.

Funeral services for Hunter, who retired from the U. S. Army after serving two tours of duty in Vietnam, will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in Austin’s St. James Baptist Church.

He will receive full military honors and will be buried in the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.

‘No hero’

And what about the other person who died in the crash, the pilot who deliberately guided his small airplane into the building?

Stack left behind a rambling, scattershot blog filled with rage at the IRS, blaming the organization for business failures and other problems.

Jackson is a soft-spoken man but he bristled at the statement by Stack’s daughter that her father was “a hero.”

“It seems to me that if you’ve got a $300,000 house and an airplane then you can afford to pay your taxes,” Jackson said.

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