Witness speaks at preliminary hearing for alleged Leilani shooter

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Ethan Edwards turns to ask a question of Judge Harry Freitas Thursday in Hilo District Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald John William "Bill" Hubbard, left, appears June 4 in Hilo District Court with Deputy Public Defender Michael Ebesugawa.

A 36-year-old Pahoa man who faced down the barrel of a handgun that fired at least two gunshots in lava-ravaged Leilani Estates on May 29 testified he was “afraid for his life” during the incident.

Ethan Edwards told Hilo District Judge Harry Freitas he saw 61-year-old John William “Bill” Hubbard pull a silver revolver out of his pocket, “point it at my head … raise it into the air and fire it.”

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Edwards’ testimony came Thursday, the second day of a preliminary hearing to determine if there is probable cause to try Hubbard for first-degree robbery, reckless endangering, use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony, illegally carrying a handgun, having no permit to acquire a firearm and no firearm registration, two counts of reckless endangering and five counts of first-degree terroristic threatening.

Edwards said Hubbard, the man police say was the shooter in a Facebook video that went viral, drove quickly on Kahukai Street toward the intersection of Makamae Street in his white pickup truck, got out and told everyone in the vicinity to identify themselves and to leave. He said Hubbard struck him twice before pointing the revolver and that he blocked both strikes with his arms.

“I couldn’t actually believe what was happening,” Edwards said. “I think I said, ‘Are you f—–g kidding me?’”

Edwards, whose Leilani Estates home fell victim to lava prior to the incident, described Hubbard as “really angry” and “super aggressive.” He acknowledged he reacted aggressively to Hubbard’s alleged aggression.

“I started approaching him and said, ‘You’re gonna get f—–g arrested for that,’” Edwards said. “… I reiterated, ‘I live here. I have a right to be here.’”

Edwards testified he contemplated revenge as he got into his car to leave.

“I looked for my keys because I was going to run him over, but I couldn’t find them,” he said.

Edwards was part of a group of five people in two cars and his friend, Preston Cook, was a passenger in his car. Lauren Kaech drove the other vehicle, with her cousin, Aurorah Davis, and Briana Spangler, Edwards’ partner, as passengers.

A stranger, Patricia Jones, was also present, and shot video of the altercation.

Nobody was physically injured in the incident.

On the witness stand June 4, Davis said Hubbard’s pickup truck pulled up to them “really fast.”

“It was a white truck, so I kind of thought it was Civil Defense,” Davis testified. She said Hubbard got out of truck “very aggressively” and “started yelling at my friend, Ethan.”

“I saw the defendant … pushing Ethan … twice that I saw, then turned and punched him,” she added.

Davis said she ran toward the altercation, hoping she could stop it.

“At that point, a gun was drawn,” she said. “… The defendant shot over Ethan’s right shoulder. … Then, he went to the other side of his shoulder and shot again. That was more at me.”

Kaech testified on June 4 she saw Hubbard punch Edwards.

“Then after that he took a step back and there was, I think, one or two more shoves, and then he pulled a gun out of his pocket,” she said.

Fearing the confrontation was about to take a deadly turn, Kaech testified she hid behind a telephone pole and continued to view the altercation.

“He had the gun pointed at Ethan and there was one shot in his direction. … There was another shot after that,” she said. Kaech said Hubbard saw her holding her cellphone and demanded at gunpoint she turn it over.

“I tossed it near his feet, and as soon as I saw him bend down to grab my phone I sprinted to my car,” she said.

“I feared for my life. He had the gun pointed at me. I was terrified,” Kaech added.

The hearing is scheduled to conclude on June 29, although it’s possible Hubbard — who is not expected to testify — could be indicted before then, rendering the remainder of the hearing unnecessary.

Witnesses ordered to appear on that date include Spangler, Cook, Jones and Hawaii Police Department Detective Kayne Kelii.

Two of the charges against Hubbard, first-degree robbery and carrying a firearm in the commission of a separate felony, normally are Class A felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Since the incident happened during a declared emergency and 11 felony charges have been filed, however, the complaint seeks a possible life sentence if Hubbard is convicted of those charges.

Hubbard, who remains in custody at Hawaii Community Correctional Center in lieu of $197,000 bail, also faces a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

According to the federal complaint, police searched Hubbard’s white 2003 Chevrolet pickup truck and found .38-special and .30-06 ammunition, two speed loaders, a holster and about four ounces of marijuana. The document states Hubbard has a current medical marijuana permit.

Police did not retrieve a firearm.

Hubbard’s felony record, according to documents, includes a 1976 drug trafficking conviction in Kentucky and a 1986 Oregon conviction for being a felon in possession of a concealable weapon.

In Hawaii, he’s been convicted in 2009 with resisting arrest, a misdemeanor, and harassment, a petty misdemeanor. A misdemeanor firearms charge was dropped in that case. He also has a 2013 conviction for harassment. A court has ordered him to undergo anger management counseling. He’s also had numerous run-ins with neighbors, some allegedly documented on YouTube. In addition, Hubbard has been the subject of several temporary restraining order petitions and has himself filed for TROs against others.

He and a neighbor, Andy Williamson, were granted a mutual TRO in 2008.

Hubbard, listed in court documents as 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, is a retired commercial diver who repaired underwater pipelines.

He told the late Tribune-Herald columnist Wayne Joseph in 2009 he worked in waters as deep as 800 feet in the North Sea, Central America, Mexico and California.

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The Missouri-born Hubbard, who’s lived in Hawaii since 1996, played football at the University of Kentucky.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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