Niagara Gazette

October 8, 2013

Man at center of Tonawanda standoff died with gun at his side

By Jessica Bagley
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Town of Tonawanda resident Joseph Hollywood, the 60-year-old who sent his town neighborhood into a tense standoff, died in his basement from smoke inhalation, alongside his long gun and an oxygen tank, police said Tuesday. 

"Investigators believe he was positioned where he was so that he could engage any police that came in looking for him," a statement from Town of Tonawanda Lt. Nick Bado reads. 

The findings have provided vindication for police officers and first responders, who didn't approach the burning Fries Road home in fear that Hollywood was inside, armed and ready to attack anyone who approached him. 

As the home collapsed, firefighters used a ladder to hose water on the home from a safe distance, and police kept a watchful eye on the perimeter surrounding the area. The body wasn't found until between 4 and 5 p.m., after the home was completely destroyed. 

Authorities began demolishing the home and removing weapons from the structure on Tuesday. Post-incident meetings for fire and police personnel will offer both parties a chance to review the details from the strained day. 

Town of Tonawanda Chief Anthony Palumbo said authorities handled the incident in the safest way. Palumbo made the final call to direct firefighters not to approach the home. 

"It was somewhat difficult, because we knew there would be significant damage to the house and possibly fire damage to some other nearby homes," he said. "I knew we had some space, but in the end, we have to protect life and limb." 

Last year's tragic event in Webster, when gunman William Spengler set a fire and then killed two firefighters, also offered as a warning for first responders. But Palumbo said the killings in Webster, a suburb of Rochester, didn't affect the police's approach.

"We talked about that, and it's hard to escape the fact that Webster happened," he said, noting that many police and fire presentations have concentrated on the killings, which took place Dec. 24, 2012. "I believe that because of the way we operate, our response would have been the same, given that we have to protect the people at the scene."

But Palumbo said the lessons from the event did have a positive effect on the way first responders interact with each other.

"It really helped enhance the cooperation between the fire and police," he said. "Earlier, fire companies may have thought we were interfering with their job, but they truly knew that we were there to protect them."

As authorities went about their investigation, neighbors gathered to watch.

in the driveway.