Tommy Shane Steiner, a mostly retired country singer, has been flying and landing his private helicopter at an Austin shopping center to "ward off" people who he said were breaking into businesses. He said that there’s a “vagrancy problem” in the area.
As KXAN first reported, several businesses at The Village, a shopping center on West Anderson Lane in Austin, noticed a strange and concerning sight in recent weeks: A helicopter was flying low to the ground and at times landed in the parking lot. KXAN also published a video of the helicopter in the parking lot, shared by an anonymous business owner at the shopping center.
Steiner told me he suspected “someone would freak out” when they saw him land in the parking lot even though he does it “all the time” and that there’s “zero danger.”
“Nobody said anything the first time, but the second time a lady that showed up just before I left, totally flipped out and recorded me leaving,” he said.
I called and confused a handful of employees who work at various businesses at the shopping center including a comic book shop and an Alamo Drafthouse theater to get a clearer picture of the scene. None of them had a clue what I was talking about until I reached Jonathan Armen, who works at AOMA Herbal Medicine North.
“It was some rich guy who flew into the parking lot three or four times,” he told me. “First time I saw it, I thought this was very strange. Some janitors or something were there earlier to clear out the homeless, then this helicopter lands and is coming close to trees, power lines. I think he comes from a rich family, because if you have a toy like that, you just fly it around. It’s illegal to do that. I don’t know if he got approval. Being that my brother is a pilot, I knew what he was doing was dangerous.”
Steiner told KXAN that he likes to commute to work in a helicopter, a sentiment he has shared on Instagram as well.
“Austin traffic is bad, so I’m doing my part to make it a little better by not being in it. #ecowarrior,” he said in a post of a video of him flying over downtown Austin.
Steiner first told KXAN and then confirmed to me in an online chat that one of the shopping center's property managers asked him to fly the helicopter over the center every week to “ward off” people who were staying on the roof and breaking into businesses. He said that the shopping center had a “vagrancy problem.”
“They said they’d had several break ins where people would hide out on the roof and break in through the ventilation system,” Steiner told me. “I don’t know if they were homeless or not, but they do have a problem around there.” He added that one of the people managing the shopping center told him “they’d have a police escort block off an area to the very back of the parking lot next to a building with no tenants and save me the drive to get over there.”
Steiner is a former country singer and heir to the Steiner Ranch. Once 5,200 acres of ranch land, the ranch was sold to a developer and is today an upscale residential community, but its name also lives on in the Steiner Ranch Steakhouse, which serves what looks like a very nice ribeye and is owned by the Steiner family.
Steiner says that he’s retired from the music business, but he will occasionally perform at the steakhouse. He is best known for his 2001 hit single “What If She’s an Angel,” which is, coincidentally, a ballad about showing compassion for a homeless person.
Armen told me that there are homeless people near the shopping center, but that he and his coworkers did not see it as a big problem.
“It’s all over the country, we probably got 10,000 homeless people in the city,” he said (KXAN disputes that figure). “There has been some vandalism of some of the buildings, they camp out across the street. There’s a lot of heat exhaustion because the summer has been so warm. I feel pretty safe and all my colleagues do.”
As Armen suggested, KXAN reported that it’s against the Austin Department of Aviation’s rules for a helicopter to land in the middle of a random parking lot unless it’s an emergency or if the pilot had a special permit, which the Austin Department of Aviation did not grant at that location.
KXAN’s report obviously enthralled me but also left me wondering: why is Steiner strafing vagrants with his private helicopter in the middle of his theoretically busy day?
Aside from posts about flying helicopters, firing light machine guns, and having fun with retired MMA fighter Tim Kennedy and Alex Jones, Steiner (on the left) is also extremely ripped. In fact, Armen told me that the man he saw step out of the helicopter was wearing a muscle shirt.
He obviously hits the gym and at least one of those gyms is the Archetype Boxing Club, which is located at the The Village shopping center, right around the corner from AOMA Herbal Medicine North. Steiner has posted from the gym several times, has tagged the club in an Instagram post, and the background behind him in that photo also matches photos from Archetype’s Google page, which also include promotional images featuring Steiner and Kennedy.
“I usually box with my friends once a week at Archetype and I land at a property I own a couple of miles north,” Steiner told me when I asked if the boxing gym is his connection to the shopping center. “The people that manage the Village knew this and asked if I wouldn’t mind coming by there and checking out the rooftops.”
Like in many parts of the country, there is no doubt that a years-long housing crisis has led to more people resorting to living on the streets. It’s hard to miss if you live in a place like Austin, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, and even if you don’t, national media has written many fearmongering articles about the issue.
Obviously, nobody wants their store to be broken into, but I asked Steiner if he stands by the lyrics to his hit “What If She’s An Angel,” which go like this:
You know the man
You see him every morning
The one you never give your money to
You can sit there with your window rolled up
Wondering when the lights going to turn green
Never knowing what a couple more bucks
In his pocket might mean
What if he's an angel sent here from Heaven
And he's making certain that you're doing your best
To take the time to help one another
Brother are you going to pass that test
You can go on with your day to day
Trying to forget what you saw in his face
Knowing deep down it could have been his saving grace
What if he's an angel
“Absolutely,” Steiner said. “Again, I wasn’t asked to run off homeless people. I was asked to be a deterrent for people breaking in from the rooftops. I highly doubt those people are Angels.”