In the months before his death Wednesday morning in a fire at his Waiehu home, longtime Lahaina Harbormaster Hal Silva had told others about his health problems from workplace exposure to carbon monoxide and his frustration in trying to get help.
"He was talking about the doctors he was going to, trying to get workers' comp or get some kind of money to help him get through," said Jan Nolan, a boater who knew Silva for years. "He said that the state was fighting him."
Police said the 52-year-old Silva was suffering from mental health issues that he believed were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from his job.
Police are investigating arson and suicide in the fatal fire at his house on Kakae Place in Oceanview Estates.
Wailuku patrol officers went to the house after neighbors reported hearing yelling and gunshots at 6:19 a.m. Wednesday. Officers were told that Silva had set his home on fire and had fired gunshots in the home, said Lt. Jayson Rego of the police Criminal Investigation Division. He said officers saw the back of the residence engulfed in flames and heard several gunshots coming from inside the house.
Firefighters responded to extinguish the flames and later discovered the charred remains of Silva in the home, along with three dead family dogs and one injured dog. All four dogs had been shot, Rego said.
The injured dog was turned over to Valley Isle Animal Rescue for treatment.
Rego said Silva's wife, who had been home, called police when Silva began dousing the home with gasoline and shooting their dogs. She left the residence with two other family dogs that had followed her out of the house, Rego said.
Silva had been Lahaina harbormaster for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for at least 15 years, Nolan said.
"In the boating community, he was very well liked and very well respected," she said. "He worked for the community. He worked for the boaters. He tried to explain things, make things easier. He was just so fantastic. Any time I had a situation, I would call and he would always take the time. He followed through.
"A lot of times with government, things move slowly. Hal was always on top of it."
Retired Lahaina police Capt. Charles Hirata, who worked with Silva on issues including road closure contingency plans and cruise ship problems, said that Silva was "very professional."
"He did a really good job of working with the community," Hirata said. "He worked well with everybody. I never saw him get upset at anything. He was very, very cool under pressure.
"He was such an asset to the Lahaina community, especially the harbor. He seemed to get things done down there."
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources wouldn't comment on Silva's employment status, but he recently told a Maui News reporter that he was on leave from his job.
A statement from DLNR said: "We are saddened by his passing. We are cooperating with an ongoing investigation by the Maui Police Department. We don't have further information as to the situation that led to his passing."
In a lawsuit filed in 2nd Circuit Court in 2012, Silva and another Lahaina harbormaster said they suffered carbon monoxide poisoning when another DLNR employee left a gasoline-powered generator running in a closet next to a ventilation intake for an office at the Lahaina small-boat harbor where Silva and the other harbormaster were working on Sept. 25, 2010. The generator had been left running for more than an hour and a half, according to the lawsuit. After being forced to evacuate because of the poisoned air, Silva and the other harbormaster drove themselves to Maui Memorial Medical Center, where they were treated and both diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the lawsuit. It was filed against the employee who had been temporarily assigned to the Lahaina small-boat harbor when he left the generator running.
Court files indicate that the case is in arbitration.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by exposure to too much of the colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. The website says carbon monoxide poisoning can cause permanent brain damage, depending on the degree and length of exposure.
Hirata said he ran into Silva several months ago when he wasn't working.
"He seemed troubled by what was going on with his physical health," Hirata said. "He wasn't the same.
"When I looked at him, he didn't seem like he was before. He was upbeat. When I saw him, he looked kind of down. It's really unfortunate."
While Silva's injuries may not have been apparent by looking at him, "you could tell when you would talk to him," Nolan said.
"He wasn't as jovial and animated as he used to be," she said. "He was a little more subdued and quiet. He didn't remember things. He didn't know what he had for lunch that day."
She said that Silva used to talk about his dogs, and they would trade dog stories.
As a hobby, Silva ran the Cross Roads airsoft field in Kihei and repaired airsoft guns, a friend said. The friend, who asked not to be identified, described Silva as "astute, intelligent and so laid-back."
But after his workplace injury, "he was insanely changed," the friend said.
After learning of Silva's death, "I'm still in shock," Nolan said Thursday.
"I'm in shock, but I can't say I was surprised - just because I know how bad things were getting for him," she said. "We were business associates, but I really liked him as a person.
"It's going to be a huge loss for the community for him to be gone. I'm blown away. He was such a great person and such a great person in this community. Whatever led him to do this, I feel terrible."
Police said the investigation is continuing, with detectives continuing to interview family members, friends and neighbors to obtain information to substantiate a motive for what happened.
An autopsy is pending.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.