Suspected mentally ill arsonist has history of igniting terror, neighbors say

NANAKULI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For months, people who live along Mikana Street in Nanakuli have begged for help.

"We contacted our City Council representative," said Taj Pacleb. "Our neighbors have been calling police, multiple times."

Now, the remains of two burned-out houses serve as a charred reminder of how Hawaii's broken mental health system has failed a community.

Early Tuesday morning, fire crews responded to a massive three-alarm blaze. An abandoned home was destroyed, and the two-story residence next to it was also damaged.

The fire is now being investigated as an arson case.

Within hours, police had arrested Jonathan Laronal, Jr. The 50-year-old has a well documented history of mental illness, and court records show he's spent years bouncing between jail, care homes and the state hospital.

In 2015, he left prison after doing time for stabbing his caregiver in the head and the chest while he slept.

Neighbors say their trouble with Laronal began last summer, when he moved into the abandoned home. His arrival, they say, was followed by a trail of destruction. Every time police arrested Laronal, neighbors say he'd be back within days.

"He's been a real terrorizer to our community. He burnt down a car a few weeks ago. Just yesterday, my neighbors had to put out a fire that was started," said Pacleb.

Prisoner's rights advocate Kat Brady says Hawaii's severe shortage of mental health treatment beds means that people who should be patients often end up in jail -- and then released, without having received treatment.

"My heart goes out to this community, because I know how frustrating it must be when they keep calling and nothing is really happening," said Brady. "They arrest someone. They bring them over and two days later they're out again. Then they arrest them again. This is not working."

With the new state hospital still years from being complete, Brady suggests creating smaller facilities to shoulder some of the burden.

In the meantime, Pacleb hopes the latest fire to strike his street will be enough for someone who can help to finally take notice.

"We just hope this guy gets the help that he needs and that our community can be safe, and that things like this can be prevented," said Pacleb.

Laronal remains in jail tonight. Prosecutors have another day to charge for him for the arson or he'll be released pending investigation.

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