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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2001

Man to stand trial in downtown car-fire incident

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

A man who set his car afire at a busy downtown intersection the day after Thanksgiving was ordered yesterday to stand trial on first-degree reckless endangering charges.

Richard Elstner pointed to friends during a preliminary hearing at District Court yesterday.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Richard G. Elstner was charged with the offense after setting his older model Mercedes afire at the corner of King and Bishop streets and then spraying the air in front of the Bank of Hawai'i building with a fire extinguisher.

Jeffrey Feland, who witnessed the incident, testified at a preliminary hearing in District Court yesterday that he saw a gold Mercedes stopped in the intersection with Elstner moving around inside. Moments later, the car's interior erupted in flames and Elstner got out of the car within seconds, Feland said.

He said he saw Elstner open the car's trunk and remove a fire extinguisher and a bag. But instead of using the extinguisher on the flames in the car, Elstner walked over to the area in front of the bank building and began to spray extinguisher contents, Feland said.

He said it did not appear that Elstner was aiming the extinguisher at anyone in particular. Feland said he moved back from his vantage on the far side of the intersection from the burning car for fear that the gas tank might explode.

Honolulu police officer Dayle Morita said that as he was handcuffing Elstner, he asked him if he owned the burning car.

Morita said Elstner told him he set the car on fire, but did not say why.

District Judge I. Norman Lewis found there was sufficient cause to turn Elstner over to Circuit Court for trial. He is to be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 10.

And the end of the hearing, Elstner waved at a few friends in the courtroom gallery and thanked them for coming.

"I'm OK," he told them.

Elstner filed a lawsuit in state Circuit Court in August saying Bank of Hawaii and its subsidiary, Pacific Century Trust, mismanaged the trust accounts of his deceased mother and father. But an attorney for the bank and trust company said the same allegations had been heard previously in probate court, which ruled in favor of the bank.

He is being held at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, with bail set at $20,000.