Thursday, April 19, 2001

Levi Esperas and Bernadette Oili enjoyed their wedding ceremony
at the Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park in May 1999. Tuesday's
Waipio gun fight with police left Esperas dead; Oili and two men
were arrested. Two officers were shot but are expected to recover.

Suspects in cop
shootings were high
school friends

Relatives blame drugs for
the group's downward spiral

By Nelson Daranciang

THE FOUR SUSPECTS in Tuesday's shoot-out on the H-2 Freeway that left one man dead and two police officers injured went to high school together and grew up less than a mile apart.

None had been in any serious trouble until a few years ago, relatives said, when they got involved with drugs.

Levi Esperas, 27, the suspected gunman who died following the confrontation, started living with his girlfriend, Bernadette Oili, also 27, and her family in their Kawao Avenue home in Nanakuli while they were in high school, said Bernadette's brother, Jason Oili. They have four children, ages 9, 8, 2 and 8 months.

After they participated in a wedding ceremony at the Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park on May 20, 1999, sponsored by a local radio and television station, they adopted the surname Laa, the name of Esperas's biological father. However, it was not clear if they actually took out a marriage license.

Until a few years ago both had jobs. "My sister had a good job as a nurse's aide at Queen's. She was a good student," Jason Oili said. According to court records, Esperas was a meat cutter at Tamura Superette and later a sheet-metal worker at Tinsmith.

His sister and Esperas moved out of the Nanakuli house last November, leaving their children in the care of Oili's parents.

Oili said the couple went to live with friends.

By that time, they were already involved in drugs, Jason Oili said. By that time also, Esperas had been convicted of harassment, a misdemeanor, for a July 1998 incident involving Oili, for which he was fined $50. He originally was charged with abuse of a household member.

In December 1999, he was convicted of misdemeanor abuse of a household member, again involving Oili, and sentenced to six months probation. Oili has no criminal convictions.

The other two suspects in the case -- Jesse Ani, 28, and Samuel Hao, 29 -- also have various misdemeanor convictions.

In October 1995 on the Big Island, Ani was convicted of violating a temporary restraining order and of criminal contempt of court. He was sentenced to two days in prison and one year probation.

In 1990, Hao was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and for driving without his license.

He was fined $200 and had his license suspended for 90 days. In 1999, he was convicted of petty misdemeanor theft and was sentenced to 10 hours of community service.

Less than two hours before the Tuesday afternoon shoot-out, Hao dropped by the Haleakala Avenue home he grew up in for a brief chat with his brother, said Germane Hao, his sister-in-law.

She said he pulled up in a van driven by Ani. She is not sure if it is the same van involved in the shoot-out.

Hao, who described her brother-in-law as a roamer, said he moved out in 1998 and had been living "on the beach, with my sister-in-law, probably because she's a softie."

She said he moved out because he could not comply with her husband's strict rules. She said Samuel was also involved in drugs.

Jason Oili said that when he first heard about the shooting involving three men and a woman, he immediately thought of his sister "because I know my sister (and Esperas) usually cruise with those two guys."

He dismissed the thought but later realized it was his sister, when he arrived home that evening and saw police talking to his parents.

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