Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard’s announcement Thursday that multiple firearms were recovered from the debris at 3015 Hibiscus Drive might serve as a linchpin in the likely litigation of a Sunday crime spree that left two police officers dead and seven homes destroyed by fire.
But Honolulu attorney Rick Fried, whose firm is not representing anyone involved, said determining liability comes down to who actually owned or possessed the gun or guns that were used to kill Honolulu police officers Tiffany Enriquez, 38, and Kaulike Kalama, 34.
Jerry “Jarda” Hanel, a handyman who lived in the basement of the home, on Sunday allegedly fatally shot the officers; killed his landlord, Lois Cain; and attacked another resident of the home. Hanel, 69, is also believed to have set a fire that destroyed the house he lived in and also leveled six other homes in the close-knit neighborhood.
Police have found two sets of remains in the rubble that are believed to be those of Hanel and Cain, his 77-year-old landlord.
>> Photo Gallery: Ashes and charred rubble of the Diamond Head fire
Litigation over the incident is all but certain, Fried said. However, whether the cases prevail comes down to details, especially about the firearm or firearms used to kill the police officers, he said.
“Who had ownership or possession — that’s going to be the No. 1 issue,” said Fried, who thinks two state statutes — HRS 134-29 and HRS 663-9.5 — could be invoked by the families of the slain officers to pursue litigation.
If the gun used to shoot the officers was under Cain’s ownership or even in her possession, Fried said Cain’s estate might face liability. However, he doesn’t think Cain’s estate could be held liable for the death of the officers if Hanel used his own firearm.
Fried said HRS 663-9.5 establishes absolute liability for an owner whose gun is used to injure or kill someone except in cases where the gun was taken from the owner’s possession without their permission and they reported it, or despite using reasonable care had not discovered the theft prior to the incident.
He said HRS 134-29 establishes an obligation for the owner as well as the person who possesses a gun to report its loss, destruction or theft to authorities within 24 hours.
“I think that someone that possesses (the firearm), if they haven’t reported it within the 24 hours would also be on the hook,” Fried said. “If she didn’t know they were missing by reasonable care, that would be a defense for her.”
Ballard told reporters Thursday that the firearms have not been traced to an owner, and couldn’t say what kind of weapons were recovered. She said the items recovered were really “burned-out carcasses, for lack of a better term, of firearms.”
Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the guns “are being examined for ownership and serial numbers.”
Ballard said checks of the names of people who lived at the Diamond Head home showed that the weapons were not registered to homeowner Cain or her late husband. However, according to Chapter 134 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, which is cited on the HPD website, “registration is not mandatory for rifles and shotguns acquired in the state of Hawaii prior to July 1994.” It also says that “one permit per rifle or shotgun was required for acquisitions between 1981 and July 1994.”
A houseguest who stayed in the Hibiscus Drive home recalled there was a storage locker filled with weapons under a bed that had belonged to Cain’s late husband, Raymond Cain, but Ballard said police have recovered only “a few” burned weapons “but not the huge cache that the friend was saying.”
While Fried thinks liability for the firearms used to kill the police officers is the most likely litigation, he and other legal and insurance experts expect there will be other suits.
Fried said he doesn’t think homeowners could prevail in lawsuits against Cain’s estate for the fire, which was allegedly caused by her tenant.
Judging by court records, even before Sunday’s incident, Hanel had somewhat of a troubled past. Hanel also had a difficult marriage, and the fire on Hibiscus Drive wasn’t his first home to burn down.
According to divorce documents filed in 1997 in Honolulu, Hanel’s second wife, April Queen Hanel, feared him because she alleged that he was “alcoholic and abusive.”
They married Sept. 1, 1993, in Honolulu and separated April 1997 when he left their home.The couple met in 1984 and bought a house in Needham, Mass., in 1985, with the help of the woman’s employer, she said in court documents. The house burned down in 1989, but there is no indication from the divorce documents of any nefarious activity.
In fact, the insurance company paid off the mortgage after the fire and paid the balance of $200,000 to Hanel, his now ex-wife alleged in court documents. Hanel alleged that he bought out the employer’s interest in the house and had sole legal title to it.
Hanel worked as a property manager in Honolulu for a time before moving in with Cain, whose home neighbors say he lived in for 15 years or more. From 2014 to 2018 seven temporary restraining orders filed were against him by four separate individuals, including his next-door neighbor Warren Daniel. Neighbors said Cain ignored their concerns.
“There’s a potential exception to bringing the landlord in if the conduct was willful and wanton, but I don’t think we have that here,” Fried said. “He was a kook and did odd things. To my knowledge he wasn’t being treated (by mental health professionals).”
Sue Savio, president and owner of Insurance Associates Inc., said most assuredly some residents and their insurance companies will pursue a variety of litigation as they did following the July 14, 2017, Marco Polo fire.
The Marco Polo, a 568-unit building at 2333 Kapiolani Blvd., was built in 1971 before the city began requiring sprinkler systems. Killed in the inferno that day were Britt Reller, 54; his mother, 87-year-old Melba Jeannine “Jean” Dilley; and their neighbor Joann M. Kuwata, 71. Marilyn Van Gieson, 81, died Aug. 3 from fire-related complications.
“Everybody is free to sue; it’s America,” Savio said. “So whether it was the people in Marco Polo who didn’t have renter’s insurance or didn’t have enough of their own insurance, they can sue, and it’s the same thing here. All of these owners who have lost their homes, as well as their insurance companies, would love to be able to segregate their loss. You can’t go against the tenant, who killed the policemen and probably killed himself and the landlord, but maybe the landlord has assets. It’s a legal matter. I mean, it’s years of legal.”
The families of the four victims who died in the high-rise Marco Polo fire filed a lawsuit alleging that the deaths could have been prevented if the defendants had followed basic safety measures. Numerous other victims also filed suits against a variety of defendants and issues.
Sam Shenkus, who owns a condominium unit in the Marco Polo, said some cases were filed right up until the end of the two-year statutory period.
“From my experience, it’s going to be a long road for the people affected by the Hibiscus Drive shooting and fire,” Shenkus said. “The Marco Polo fire was July 14, 2017, and we’re hopeful that in early 2020 there’ll finally be legal resolution.”
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Leila Fujimori contributed to this story.