Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Officers place Samuel Hao under arrest April 17 after two
HPD officers were shot and wounded on the H-2 freeway,
just north of the Ka Uka Boulevard offramp.

Police had
control of shotgun,
witness says

A man involved in last month's
H-2 shooting says police had held the
gun used to shoot two officers

By Nelson Daranciang

One of the men in the stolen van involved in last month's H-2 freeway shootout said police briefly had possession of the shotgun used to shoot two police officers.

Samuel Hao, who was arrested but later released, told the Star-Bulletin yesterday that gunman Levi Esperas shot Honolulu Police Officer Robert Steiner and another officer after Esperas and Steiner scuffled.

Steiner was on top of Esperas, who was face down on the ground, but the two struggled again and Esperas broke free, said Hao, who said he witnessed the shooting from about 10 feet away in the van.

"Levi came up; he had the gun. And he took one step back and he fired," he said. That one shot injured Steiner in the hand and grazed the face of officer Aaron Bernal, who was standing behind Steiner, said Hao.

"As soon as Levi came up with the gun, it's just like time froze. I was just like, 'Levi, no.' He was more scared than anything," Hao said.

Yesterday, Hao demonstrated how the policeman
held up his hand to protect himself and was shot.

Steiner was only about three feet away from the shotgun. Bernal and another officer then fired about 10 shots that felled Esperas.

"I just was praying, 'cause I was looking at Levi, he was just yelling, 'I'm sorry. I was just scared. I didn't mean to shoot,'" Hao said.

Steiner remains in Queen's Medical Center in fair condition with a severe injury to his left hand. Esperas, 27, died early the next morning after the April 17 confrontation. Bernal was treated and released the same day.

Hao, 29, was the front-seat passenger in a stolen van driven by Esperas that crashed in the freeway median as they tried to flee from police.

He said when the van crashed, Esperas ran out of the van and opened the sliding door on the other side of the vehicle, allowing Jesse Ani, 28, and Esperas' wife, Bernadette Laa, 27, to exit.

Hao said Laa was carrying the shotgun. Hao said he stayed in the van until ordered out by police because, he said, the passenger-side door would not open.

Hao said Steiner captured Laa, who was hampered by a leg injury, a few feet from the van and took the shotgun. Esperas, who had already fled on foot, returned when he saw that his wife had been captured, Hao said.

At that point Steiner released Laa, he said.

"I don't know why, but the cop let go of Mimi (Laa), and he put the gun on the ground, and he attacked Levi."

Police have said that Steiner and Esperas scuffled before the shooting; however, they have not said whether officers had possession of the shotgun before the shooting.

Hao also said Esperas did not fire more than one shot. Police have said Esperas fired one or two more shots at other officers before he was killed.

The case is being investigated by HPD's Internal Affairs. Police spokeswoman Jean Motoyama said police have no comment on the details of the investigation.

Police have not charged Ani, Hao or Laa in connection with the incident.

Hao was released from custody after making a court appearance on four outstanding warrants. Ani and Laa were charged after confessing involvement in three unrelated auto thefts and remain in custody.

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