Hop Bottom hermit fire ruled arson
BY PAT FARNELLI
The dilapidated camper home of a Hop Bottom hermit was set on fire on Memorial Day, borough officials announced at their meeting on Tuesday.
The fire alert panicked the borough’s mayor and secretary, who knew that the property owner might have returned home.
Hal Akoa, who was hospitalized for gangrene on both legs, attempted to return to his property after release from a Tunkhannock nursing home, but the driver who transported would not release him after he saw the condemned camper’s condition. He was then taken to Scranton, where he was staying in a shelter and eating at a soup kitchen until he was able to find a veteran’s facility which provided him with housing.
A state fire marshal ruled that the fire was arson, the mayor said.
Akoa, who is known as “Dog Guy” around town, had been the subject of legal action by the borough after his property became infested with large rats.
As recently as last month, neighbors complained of rodents venturing off the property into neighboring yards, terrifying small children and damaging wires and water lines.
The Hop Bottom Hook and Ladder company responded to the fire, but the camper was completely destroyed. “It will never be lived in again,” said Deb Norton, borough secretary.
She added that the smoke from the fire blended with a horrible odor from the camper to make an overwhelming stench, unlike anything she had ever smelled.
No running water or toilet facilities were available on the property, and buckets of human waste were thrown into the woods nearby. Mayor Paul Henry said that plastic totes full of dog feces were still on the property, but clean up had begun. He said that Akoa had contracted for the camper’s remains to be hauled away, and the general area was completely cleared except for the frame.
A code enforcement officer had posted the trailer with an “unsafe for entry” and condemnation sign several weeks before the fire.
Akoa lived in a similar trailer in New York with a large number of dogs, and was featured on “Animal Planet” in 1998′s season one episode three.
A former actor on Hawaii Five-O, Akoa has been an interesting figure in the small village, and borough officials say that they fully expected him to live out his life in the camper near the old creamery.
The village bank, post office, and grocery store did not allow Akoa to come inside, but would send someone out to help him conduct his business, due to problems with odor coming from his person, borough officials said.
He walked the streets daily, and had fallen once during the winter. Residents checked up on him if he was not seen around town.
If it were not for the rats, he would have been accepted in the community, it was said.
The borough solicitor, Marion O’Malley, is proceeding with litigation against Akoa.
“There has never been a case tried in Pennsylvania like this one,” said Norton. “It is a precedent setting case.”