Pittsburgh hostage-taker had a troubled past
PITTSBURGH — Klein Michael Thaxton, who surrendered to police after holding a man hostage Downtown for almost six hours Friday, had traveled a troubled road after being discharged from the Army in 2010.
Thaxton, 22, who had been living at a three-quarters house in Beechview, was arrested and charged with kidnapping, terroristic threats and aggravated assault, and is now in Allegheny County Jail.
Thaxton is a McKeesport native who attended McKeesport Area High School.
He served in the Army from Jan. 8, 2009, to June 17, 2010, when he was discharged. He was trained as a combat engineer and was stationed in Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and then Fort Riley in Kansas. The details of his "separation agreement" with the Army were not available, but such an agreement involves either an "other than honorable discharge" or a "general discharge." He was awarded a National Defense Service Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and an Army Service Ribbon, according to U.S. Army records.
In July 2011, Thaxton was arrested for a variety of charges, including reckless endangerment and receiving stolen property, after he was accused of stealing a car in McKeesport. Police said he led them on a chase from Oakland through the South Hills and back into the city. He was captured after leaping from the roof of an auto body shop in Uptown and injuring his ankle.
He was then arrested in September 2011, and charged with robbery and related crimes.
Thaxton was admitted to a Veterans' Court program in November.
As part of his service plan, dated Dec. 29, he agreed to participate in a dual inpatient treatment facility, and at the conclusion of the program would move to a half-way house.
Thaxton agreed to cooperate with any recommended mental health and drug and alcohol treatment as well.
In January, he pleaded guilty to robbery, receiving stolen property, simple assault and reckless endangerment. Thaxton was sentenced to six to 12 months incarceration, but was immediately paroled to inpatient treatment through Pyramid Wilkinsburg.
At the hearing, Thaxton chose not to make any statement to Judge John A. Zottola.
According to the transcript, the judge ordered Thaxton to pay $4,286 in restitution for damage to the victim's vehicle.
"When you get out and get back on your feet, not only do you have to concentrate on doing well, but once you get employed you have to pay some restitution, even if it's $10 or $20 a month," the judge told him. "If somebody owed you money, you would want them to pay it back."
"Yes, sir," Thaxton answered.
To qualify for Veterans' Court, a defendant must be either active duty or a veteran who has been diagnosed with an Axis I mental health disorder and is currently facing criminal charges.
According to court records, Thaxton's probation officer filed a violation notice with the court May 23, noting that he was at Altoona Hospital at the time. He was scheduled for a violation hearing on June 13, but it is unclear what happened at that hearing.
His next scheduled court appearance is Nov. 8 in Veterans' Court.
Thaxton's attorney, Kirsha Weyandt, would not comment on his case.
Ronda Thaxton last saw her son a few weeks ago, when he visited her to do his laundry.
She had a suspicion that Thaxton was troubled.
"I felt something was wrong, but I just couldn't put my finger on it," Ms. Thaxton said in an interview this afternoon in Point State Park.
His hostage, Charles W. Breitsman Jr., of Ligonier, heads the firm CW Breitsman Associates, LLC, a third-party firm that helps administer others' insurance, retirement and pension plans.
He declined to comment on his ordeal Friday.
Mr. Breitsman, who is an employee benefits expert who formerly served as president of the board of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, founded the firm in 2007.
Mr. Breitsman, 56, does a lot of work with union pension funds. Rich Stanizzo, business manager of the Pittsburgh Building Trades Council, said Mr. Breitsman went to night school for financial training, got out of the trades and went into consulting. His biography says he has more than 30 years experience in the employee benefits and compensation field and was a former president and board member of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.
In Ligonier, residents learned piecemeal that one of their own was being held hostage inside a Downtown office building.
Amy Leipold said she alternated between worry and false comfort while she remained glued to the television before she left to work at Bethlen Printing in Ligonier about 11:30 a.m. When she heard that the hostage was in the office of CW Breitsman Associates, LLC, "I thought that's Charlie," she said. When she heard that a woman named Jill ran across the hallway, she temporarily convinced herself that it couldn't have been him because he didn't have a daughter named Jill and his business is family-run.
"They aren't the kind of people who make headlines," Ms. Leipold said of the Breitsman family.
Many in town said they knew the family because Mr. Breitsman's wife, Randy, taught at the local middle school for years, interacting with scores of children.
Ms. Leipold said that when her children were in Ms. Breitsmans' class they noticed that Mr. Breitsman sent his wife a fresh vase of flowers every week.
Benjamin Burns, 42, of Ligonier, said he saw the family at the local Methodist church and at school events. Mr. Breitsman attended almost everyone of his son's football and basketball games.
"They were people you liked," he said.