Joe Hollywood positioned himself in a corner of his basement Monday after setting his Town of Tonawanda house ablaze – ready to shoot at police if they tried to rescue or confront him, authorities said.
Hollywood, 60, had equipped himself to survive the fire at least for a while, before he succumbed to smoke inhalation. He took whiffs of oxygen from a tank beside him and pointed a long gun in the direction of where officers would have entered the cellar.
Police did not engage. It was too dangerous.
That’s not to say they did not consider making an entry.
At 9:15 a.m., Hollywood’s domestic partner called 911 saying he was going to kill her and had threatened her with a gun. Over the next seven hours, police discussed the possibility of entering the house but were advised that conditions caused by the fire and the possibility that there could be gunfire made it too dangerous.
“We were told that if officers inhaled one or two breaths of the smoke, it would be enough to be fatal,” Police Lt. Nicholas A. Bado said Tuesday. “Under those conditions, a rescue was not a reasonable option.”
As it turned out, officers who set up a perimeter around Hollywood’s home at 163 Fries Road did suffer smoke inhalation and required medical treatment.
“The officers had elevated levels of carbon monoxide and had to receive oxygen,” Bado said.
Around noon, the rear portion of the house collapsed, further adding to the hazardous conditions.
And yet another factor was at play.
The possibility of Hollywood waiting in a burning house for an encounter with officers, Bado said, had a “common theme” with the tragedy that occurred on Christmas Eve last year in the Rochester suburb of West Webster.
William H. Spengler Jr. had set fire to his car and home and then ambushed responding firefighters, killing two and wounding two others, before committing suicide after a shootout with police.
Bado said it can only be speculated that Hollywood was attempting to copy Spengler, since the Town of Tonawanda resident is dead. But he said he is positive that Hollywood was prepared to shoot at police.
“He intended to try and survive down there at least long enough to encounter police and get into a shootout, if officers had gone down into the basement,” Bado said. “There’s no way he could have survived the fire long-term. He was going to die one way or another.”
When town police entered Hollywood’s house later Monday afternoon, they found his body on the floor in a basement corner, with a mouthpiece apparatus tethered to an oxygen tank and in possession of a long gun. Other firearms also were found.
Long before his demise, Hollywood was well-known to police.
“Clearly he was a disturbed individual,” Bado said. “We have had interaction with him over the years. Our computer records go back to 2003, and we have had 18 different occasions where we responded to complaints where he was either the complainant or the defendant and there have been many other cases before 2003 that I can recall.”
Monday, however, Hollywood’s actions escalated to “a whole different level,” the lieutenant said.
Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda schools were placed on lockdown, and neighbors closest to the Fries Road home were advised to take shelter in their basements. Brighton volunteer firefighters fought the blaze from a distance, in a “defensive” mode, working to keep it from spreading.
All those precautions were taken because it was not known whether Hollywood was still in his house.
At one point, the threat reached beyond the town’s borders. On the Lancaster Police Department’s Facebook page, there was this item:
“The Town of Tonawanda Police Department requested that patrols check a Transit Road self-storage facility for a subject who was wanted by their department. The subject was considered to be armed and dangerous. Patrols checked the facility and determined that the subject had not been there recently.”
The response to the incident will be reviewed soon, Bado said. “Investigators will now finish working at the scene, recover any other weapons that need to be disposed of properly and close their investigation,” he said. “The process to have an emergency demolition of the remaining structure has been started. Post-incident meetings and critiques are being scheduled and will involve both police and fire personnel.”
An autopsy determined that Hollywood died of smoke inhalation.
News Staff Reporter Joseph Popiolkowski contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org