When Phyllis Topacio spotted smoke at her neighbor’s home Wednesday afternoon, she frantically banged on the front door and then ran to the side of the house.
That’s where she saw Bryan Benjamin Hanasz.
Topacio was like a second mother to the 36-year-old man. As a child, Hanasz was at her house all the time. He was a groomsman at her son’s wedding. She baked him a cake last Christmas.
The burning house belonged to his mother. Hanasz just watched, calmly, as flames and smoke billowed from the single-story home.
"I said, ‘Benji, what are you doing? The house is on fire!’" she recounted. He turned to her and said, "Mrs. Topacio, you’d better leave. Go ahead. I don’t want you to get hurt."
"I thought he was kind of calm about it," she said. "At this point, I was kind of hysterical that his home was on fire."
She asked whether he had called 911. He said that he had called and that crews were on their way.
Hanasz kept insisting that she leave and started shouting at her, so she left. The 66-year-old had to take her granddaughter to preschool. She did not see whether Hanasz had a weapon.
Moments later, about 12:30 p.m., a vicious shootout took place in front of the home at 1230 Comstock Drive, near Washington Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard. When firefighters arrived to extinguish the flames, Hanasz pumped four rounds from a shotgun into two firetrucks.
He later wounded a Las Vegas police officer in the back and arm before police shot and killed him.
Authorities have not named the man, but Topacio and her husband saw Hanasz’s body lying in the driveway later in the day. His stepfather confirmed that Hanasz died in the shootout.
The incident has shaken those who knew Hanasz, described as a good person who ran into trouble early in life and hasn’t been the same since.
"I still can’t believe it. I liked the kid. Always liked him," said Jerry Topacio, 77. "Always referred to the wife as Mrs. Topacio. Called me Mr. Topacio."
State and court records show Hanasz served time in prison for a robbery charge he pleaded guilty to in 1993. He was charged also with two kidnapping counts involving victims older than the age of 65. Those charges were dropped.
While in prison, his grandmother died.
"She loved him to death, and he loved her," said Hanasz’s stepfather, Jerome Monroe, 65. "And after she passed, I’m pretty sure it changed him."
After his release from prison, Hanasz had no more run-ins with the law, but he couldn’t keep a steady job or a steady life.
Monroe last spoke to him about a month ago after Hanasz’s girlfriend broke up with him.
"He wasn’t upset with the world," he said. "He was just saying, ‘Dad, I lost my job, I can’t find a job.’ He was worrying about the place he’s staying in and coming up with the rent and stuff."
The Topacios said Hanasz had not been getting along with his mother.
When Phyllis Topacio recently spoke with Hanasz’s mother, she told Topacio that her son hated the world, hated her and hated himself.
"Things have just not been going well for him," Phyllis Topacio recalled the mother saying. "He’s got his problems, and he’s going to have to work them out for himself."
The Topacios didn’t think that he was in such despair that he would shoot at firefighters and police.
Las Vegas Fire Department investigators have determined that arson was the cause of the blaze at the West Las Vegas home. The fire destroyed the residence, causing about $200,000 in damage, department spokesman Tim Szymanski said.
Authorities said the shooting began almost immediately after two firetrucks carrying four firefighters each responded to the blaze.
Szymanski said he thought the two trucks were each struck twice by shotgun pellets. Both trucks had passenger-side windows blown out. Firefighters in the passenger seats narrowly missed being shot, Szymanski said.
"If it would have been a rifle, we’d probably have some dead firefighters today," Szymanski said.
The crews fled the scene. Police from multiple agencies responded to the home.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said officers who arrived at the scene were greeted by gunfire. During the shootout, a police sergeant received minor injuries. The sergeant’s name was not released. He was taken to University Medical Center, where he was treated and released.
Gillespie didn’t say how many shots the suspect fired or how many rounds were fired by police.
After the shooting, firefighters returned to the scene to extinguish the fire under the protection of SWAT units, Szymanski said. Three cats were rescued from the home.
Gillespie praised firefighters and his officers for working together in a difficult situation.
"This afternoon is an example of the dangers public safety (personnel) face on a daily basis," he said. "This is another example of the fine teamwork we do."
Hanasz’s mother, a dealer at The Mirage, was at work when the shooting occurred. The Topacios called the hotel-casino to try to reach her. They said when they spoke to her at 3:30 p.m., she hadn’t heard what had happened.
"She was in shock," he said.
The Topacios weren’t allowed to return to their home until 6:30 p.m. Jerry Topacio said he saw Hanasz’s body in the driveway, uncovered. He told his wife not to look.
The Topacios don’t know why Hanasz did what he did. Jerry Topacio believes he wanted to commit suicide by cop.
"Something broke the camel’s back," he said. "He wanted to die, and he wanted to do it this way."
Review-Journal reporter Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at email@example.com or 702-383-0440. Contact reporter Antonio Planas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638.Slideshow