Updated December 17, 2020 - 2:20 pm
Friends and family of longtime Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh were concerned about his welfare and “trying to get him into rehab” four months before he died, Park City police records obtained Tuesday by the Review-Journal show.
Park City police officers twice responded to the tech guru’s ski-town mansion for welfare checks — first on Aug. 4 and again on Aug. 14, the same month Hsieh retired as chief executive of the online shoe seller after 20 years at the helm.
Records referencing the first incident mention getting Hsieh into rehab. Records referencing the second show that “a large amount of drugs were suspected to be at his residence,” but noted that on-site security “attempted to obstruct officers” from investigating and making contact with Hsieh.
It’s unclear what came of the calls, or whether Hsieh underwent rehab; Park City police declined releasing further information, citing medical privacy concerns. The documents also cite a “psychiatric” call to the home on June 30, about a month before Hsieh bought the property through a limited liability company called Pickled Investments in July.
Hsieh died Nov. 27 at age 46 from complications of smoke inhalation after being injured in a house fire in Connecticut. The unmarried mogul had famously turned Zappos into a retail powerhouse, selling it to Amazon in a $1 billion-plus deal, and spent a fortune on real estate, restaurants and other ventures in downtown Las Vegas, becoming the face of its post-Great Recession revival and one of its biggest property owners.
But as the coronavirus pandemic raged, Hsieh emerged in Park City, where he bought at least eight homes with a combined market value of more than $18 million this year, including his 17,530-square-foot mansion, which featured a private pond and horseback riding corral, records show.
There, he was surrounded by new people and hosted plenty of parties, people familiar with Hsieh’s life in Park City told the Review-Journal. He also seemed to display erratic behavior, and reports of his drug use sparked concern, the Review-Journal reported last week.
Reports of loud parties
The newly released police records document eight disturbance calls to Hsieh’s Park City home, including reports of parking problems, disorderly conduct and illegal burning leading up to his death. All were placed in September.
Two placed Sept. 5 complained of loud noise coming from the mansion. One caller described the commotion as a “party at the residence going on for 40 straight days with loud music and flames shooting up in the air from some sort of contraption,” records show.
The account mirrors what Park City neighbors told the Review-Journal earlier this month, describing frequent parties at the home and what appeared to be a flamethrower that was shooting fire maybe 20 or 25 feet into the air Labor Day weekend.
Arriving officers Sept. 5 made contact with Hsieh’s head of security, who told police a “hot air balloon basket that was shooting the flames in the air” had since been shut down.
Two days later, though, police again were called to the home, this time by a neighbor who lived about eight to 10 doors down. She complained of what sounded like “a loud outdoor concert with amplified music and people screaming,” records show, possibly coming from a barn on the property.
If there had been a concert that night, it wasn’t the first. In August, the folk singer Jewel performed an acoustic set on Hsieh’s property, which included her 1990s hit “Who Will Save Your Soul,” as seen in video obtained by the Review-Journal.
Records show responding officers Sept. 7 arrived to relative quiet, but noted the property was “extremely large and set back from the road.” Security again greeted them. This time, they asked to speak with Hsieh personally.
The guards said Hsieh was asleep. So did their boss, who eventually arrived, “even though we could see a large amount of people inside the house with lights on everywhere.”
When officers persisted, the head of security, Shawn Kane, said Hsieh didn’t have a cellphone.
“It appeared that KANE and his employees were trying to stop us from going down to the house and trying to make contact with HSIEH,” one officer wrote.
Kane declined to comment Wednesday, citing a confidentiality agreement in his contract.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to his family,” he wrote in a text message.
Dismissing security, police made their way up the driveway and waited at the front door. About 30 minutes later, Hsieh’s brother “Andy,” or Andrew Hsieh, and another man emerged, records show. Hsieh’s Las Vegas attorney, Puoy Premsrirut, arrived shortly after.
Hsieh’s brother accused the neighbors of harassment, and officers took down Premsrirut’s contact information. But they never made contact with Hsieh.
Premsrirut and Andrew Hsieh declined comment late Tuesday afternoon through Miguel Head, a spokesperson representing the family and estate lawyers. Hsieh did not have a will when he died, the Review-Journal has reported.
‘Large open flame’
On Sept. 8, the following day, records show police and fire were again called to Hsieh’s home. A concerned motorist on Utah state Route 224, which borders the back of the property, had reported seeing “a large open flame.”
The first arriving officer spotted a man carrying what appeared to be large propane canisters. Around back of the property, near the edge of the private pond, the officer saw two hot air balloon baskets set up about 30 or 40 feet apart, which records show were being used “to project flames into the sky.”
Hsieh’s affinity for fire was no secret in Las Vegas. Hsieh had a fondness for Northern Nevada’s Burning Man festival, and Container Park features a flame-shooting praying mantis out front.
“Crews began to remove the baskets,” which were considered an “intentional violation” of the city’s open flame ban enacted in July, the officer wrote. The ban effectively outlawed open fires, fireworks and explosive devices within Park City limits.
Police and firefighters also cited an open log-burning grill that staff appeared to be cooking food on as a violation, as it was “throwing embers into the air that were traveling south in the high winds.”
In the backyard, Kane, Premsrirut and Andrew Hsieh again approached officers. They pointed to a host of precautions in place: hoses, water buckets and a fire extinguisher.
“PREMSRIRUT took responsibility for the flame activation on the basket tonight although she did not go into detail as to who specifically turned the flame on,” records show.
Officers and fire officials asked them to the extinguish the open grill, which Kane did with dirt. And with the baskets taken offline, officials left the property.
An officer later emailed Premsrirut a copy of the open flame ban and indicated he would forward the case to the city attorney’s office.
“I told PREMSRIRUT that Tony HSIEH would still be considered the responsible party for the home and the activities carried out on the property,” the officer wrote.
Final fire report
The latest illegal burning complaint came five days later, when a neighbor on Sept. 13 complained that gas heaters security personnel appeared to be using to keep warm were burning in an area thick with aspen trees.
The neighbor told police he was “afraid to go to sleep at night in case the heaters cause a wildfire in the neighborhood,” records show.
While talking with police and a fire captain, Kane said one of the heaters, situated about 10 feet off of the home’s driveway, “hadn’t been running.” The officer on scene produced a video of the heater running upon arrival. Kane was informed that running a heater in that location was illegal.
“KANE and the responsible parties for the residence have been notified several times on several previous cases of the ban,” the officer wrote.
Additional documents showed parking complaints in the neighborhood, including a Sept. 16 report of a “large motorhome and several cars parked on the street” near Hsieh’s home. No parking violations were issued.
Hsieh had been in Connecticut with one of his brothers when he was injured in the New London house fire Nov. 18. He died more than a week later.
The Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled his death an accident. The circumstances surrounding the fire remain under investigation.
The story has been updated to reflect that Hsieh was a longtime CEO of Zappos, not its founder. Miguel Head was misidentified in a previous version. Head is a spokesperson representing the family.