HONOLULU (AP) — A Hawaii handyman with a history of run-ins with police and neighbors faced eviction when he stabbed a woman and killed two officers before the house he and two women were believed to be inside burned, authorities and neighbors said.
Police responding Sunday to a call for help at the location found a woman stabbed in the leg and resident Jaroslav “Jerry” Hanel, began shooting, killing Officers Tiffany Enriquez, a seven-year veteran, and Kaulike Kalama, a nine-year veteran, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said.
Police suspect Hanel, who was in his 60s, and two women who have not been identified were inside the house when it caught fire. They were presumed dead and Ballard said it could take days to recover the remains and process evidence.
The fire destroyed seven homes and left others damaged. As it raged, the sound of dozens of apparent gunshots rang out.
Ballard said no other officers were injured but authorities were investigating whether ammunition, incendiary devices or explosives contributed to the intensity of the blaze. The apparent gunfire prompted authorities to initially prevent firefighters from approaching.
Sgt. Malcolm Lutu, president of Hawaii’s statewide police union, said he does not have any concerns about the approach police took in dealing with the situation.
“They had past dealings with him where no violence was present," Lutu said. “Where the shots came from, they were in a no-win situation.”
Lutu said he knew one of the two officers personally. He said Officer Tiffany Enriquez, 37, was a single mother of three daughters and had one grandchild.
The homeowner, Lois Cain, had recently sought to evict Hanel, who lived in the home for free in exchange for his work, according to court records and his lawyer.
Hanel's lawyer, Jonathan Burge, said Monday Cain's sister contacted him because Cain was unaccounted for. "She was trying to see whatever information we had because they can’t reach Lois," Burge said. The sister told him she spoke with the woman who was stabbed, who was one of the tenants of the house, he said.
The normally peaceful neighborhood is at the far end of famed Waikiki Beach.
Ian Felix, a Honolulu resident and combat veteran with medical training, said he was walking by the home when he saw a woman lying on the ground with blood coming from her leg.
Felix put a tourniquet on the woman's leg until the first police officer arrived. Two more officers arrived moments later; Felix said he then heard two gunshots and that he and the officer carried the injured woman into a neighbor’s garage.
Neighbors described Hanel as mentally disturbed and Ballard said he did not have any gun permits.
Hawaii has some of the toughest gun laws in the U.S. Residents can't buy firearms without permits approved by local police, who check databases to make sure applicants have not been convicted of felonies or misdemeanor crimes.
People are also denied permits if they have been acquitted of crimes because of mental problems or have been diagnosed with significant mental, behavioral or emotional disorders.
Burge has represented Hanel since 2015 in various disputes with neighbors, including temporary restraining orders that three obtained against him. Hanel, a native of the Czech Republic who used Czech interpreters in court, faced a hearing next week on a charge of misusing 911 services, Burge said Sunday.
Burge said he never knew Hanel to be violent, but that “he’s kind of a quirky guy and had problems.” Hanel believed the government was watching him and tapping his phone, Burge said.
Cain was supportive of him in his disputes with neighbors, Burge said, but she wanted him to move out so she could move into the home. Burge said their relationship also soured because Hanel’s dog had died and Cain wouldn’t let him get a new one, and the eviction might have set Hanel off.
In the complaint for Hanel's eviction, Cain said Hanel did not have a rental agreement and that despite repeated demands, he refused to vacate the premises.
Attorney David Hayakawa has represented three neighbors in restraining orders against Hanel since 2014. The neighbors complained of bizarre and annoying behavior including Hanel chasing cars down the street, confronting their guests and workers who came to their homes, recording them with a GoPro camera mounted to his hat and rigging a barbecue grill to blow thick smoke directly into their windows, Hayakawa said Monday. “Just crazy things,” he said. “It was pretty clear he was out of control.”
He would hide in bushes and watch people and he yelled at tourists who were lost while trying to get to Diamond Head, Hayakawa said.
“He was kind of in his own mind, block security,” Hayakawa said. When a woman who lived in the area would walk her dog or jog past Hanel's home, “he focused on her and would take her picture,” Hayakawa said.
A judge sided with his clients “every step of the way,” Hayakawa said. “The court granted our motions, listened to us and ruled properly. But there’s only so much a piece of paper can do.”
The homes of two of Hayakawa's clients were gutted in the fire. He recalled one client telling him Sunday, “nothing that happened to me is anything compared to what happened to these police officer’s families. But when your house is gone and all your possessions, I don’t know how to describe that.”
Associated Press freelance photographer Marco Garcia contributed to this report.