Oct. 07--A man known for dressing up as Santa Claus at large public events has thrown part of the Town of Tonawanda into gridlock this morning, reportedly threatening a female acquaintance with a gun and starting his house on fire, authorities reported.
With police and fire officials unsure whether Joe Hollywood, 60, still was in the house and whether he was alive or dead, firefighters were prevented from approaching the fully engulfed home, and Ken-Ton school officials locked down all their schools this morning.
The apparent domestic confrontation that fueled the incident became public at about 9:15 a.m., when a woman at 163 Fries Road called 911.
"He is going to kill me, and he has a gun," the woman screamed, according to police. The 911 operator also heard a man screaming in the background, and the woman claimed that the man had started the house on fire.
The phone call then ended, and the woman fled from the home, near Eggert Road, four blocks east of Parker Boulevard.
Almost half an hour later, responding volunteer firefighters still hadn't been able to attack the fire, which had engulfed the home.
"He hasn't come out, so they've been very cautious about fire personnel approaching the house," Town of Tonawanda Police Lt. Nicholas A. Bado said shortly before 9:45 a.m.
Police said Hollywood has been arrested numerous times. A quick check of police records showed that Town of Tonawanda police have had at least 18 contacts with him since 2003, they said.
On Jan. 2, 2000, Hollywood -- dressed as Santa Claus -- was charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct after being tackled in the tunnel at the end zone in Ralph Wilson Stadium during a Bills-Colts game.
In an odd twist, a Buffalo News report after his arrest listed his name as Joseph Bryniarski, of Fries Road, Town of Tonawanda, saying that he also went by the name of Joe Hollywood. Two days later, The News ran a clarification that he had changed his name to Joe Hollywood years earlier.
Four years after that incident, in April 2004, Hollywood, again dressed as Santa, appeared at a demonstration protesting President George W. Bush's appearance at Kleinhans Music Hall.
This time, he was more peaceful, lobbying for funds for Kevlar trousers for soldiers in Iraq.
Shortly before 11:45 a.m. today, Town of Tonawanda police tweeted that Hollywood remained unaccounted for and that he had made threats in the past and has access to weapons.
Ever since they received the original call, Town of Tonawanda police have focused on setting up a perimeter, looking for the man and helping neighbors evacuate or get to a safe place. At least some of the closest neighbors have been asked to go into their basements.
The Ken-Ton schools issued this statement on their website:
"The Town of Tonawanda Police Department has advised that all school district buildings should not allow anyone to leave or enter at this time. The reason is that there is a possibly deranged individual that may be related to a house fire on the corner Eggert and Fries Roads. Police informed us that at some point shots may have been fired, and we will remain in lock down mode until they have found him as they are not completely sure he is in the house."
Neighbors reported shots fired from the residence, but police haven't been able to confirm that report.
Authorities weren't sure about the relationship between Hollywood and the woman, but the original call was labeled a domestic situation.
The home is located south of Brighton Road, about a third of a mile south of Kenmore East High School.
Copyright 2013 - The Buffalo News, N.Y.