A Waco businessman, whose official capacity has not been clearly defined, rode in a helicopter that was forced under heavy gunfire to retreat from the Mount Carmel compound during the thwarted raid by federal agents, a sheriff’s department official said.
Dick Wales of Wales Industrial Service Inc. was a passenger in a Texas National Guard Kiowa Scout helicopter that drew automatic weapon fire during the initial stages of the Feb. 28 raid, forcing it and two other choppers to the ground for damage assessment.
Capt. Dan Weyenberg of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Monday Wales’ participation in the raid, saying he was an “observer.” Wales is a county reserve deputy and an avid pilot who fills in for Weyenberg on law enforcement assignments when the captain, who is also a pilot, is unavailable, Weyenberg said.
Wales, a close friend of Weyenberg’s, shares the captain’s love for flying and also has stored surplus county supplies in the past at his heavy-equipment rental business at 6101 New McGregor Highway at no expense to the county.
He declined to comment about his role in the raid.
“He was there as one of our agents,” Weyenberg said. “There was a special reason and purpose for him being where he was, but I can’t discuss it any further until after this whole thing is over.”
The helicopters were planned as diversions to cover the 100 or so Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who stormed the Branch Davidian compound in cattle trailers to serve arrest and search warrants on cult leader Vernon Howell, who changed his name to David Koresh three years ago.
The two Kiowas and the Black Hawk came under immediate gunfire from the compound, as did agents on the ground.
Initially, ATF spokespersons Monday denied that Wales was a passenger in one of the choppers.
“We had no civilian personnel on board any of the three helicopters during the raid,” said ATF spokesperson Sharon Wheeler. “All on board were either National Guard or ATF.”
ATF Special Agent Jerry Singer also said Monday that no one other than National Guard or ATF personnel were passengers in the helicopters.
“I’m going over the list of those on board right now. He’s not there,” Singer said, suggesting that Wales could have been in one of the other helicopters that flew over after the 45-minute gun battle ended.
Later, after further checks, Singer called back and said he talked to a county deputy who described Wales as an “outstanding reserve deputy and an ace helicopter pilot.” However, he said he still could not confirm that Wales was in one of the helicopters.
Later still, Singer confirmed that Wales participated.
”I called the sheriff’s department and there was a Dick Wales in one of the aircraft,” Singer said. He was acting in the performance of his duties as a deputy sheriff. He is one of two pilots that the SO (sheriff’s office) uses. But I can tell you now that the procedure was that only the National Guard, ATF or law enforcement personnel were on the aircraft. And he is a law enforcement officer.”
Singer said he was unsure how those in the helicopters were selected to fly near the compound during the ATF raid.
When asked why the federal officials were not aware that Wales was on board, Weyenberg said, “Probably the one doing the news briefing isn’t updated. He may not be aware of it.”
Weyenberg would have been on one of the choppers, too, but he was out of state and couldn’t get back to Waco in time after ATF officials pushed up the raid 24 hours from the original Monday morning plan, he said.
Lt. Col. Ed Kornandosky, state public affairs officer for the Texas National Guard, said ATF officials were able to get the helicopters through the Guard’s drug interdiction program because of suspected drug manufacturing inside the compound.
“That was the premise for us being there to begin with,” Kornandosky said. “That there was a possible methamphetamine lab in the compound. That was the only reason we were there in the first place and the only reason — that we could have participated. Serving warrants for weapons — that is not our business.”