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Family of man killed in mall bathroom files wrongful death lawsuit

Complaint says QKC failed to up security after rash of crimes

Kumulipo Sylva was convicted of manslaughter in October in the March 2018 killing of Alex Cerezo. Sylva is named as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit that Cerezo’s family has filed against the mall, claiming that the mall did not improve security after a rash of violent crimes. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

WAILUKU — The family of a man who was killed in a machete attack in a bathroom at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center last year has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that owns the mall, alleging that it failed to provide adequate security for the victim.

The complaint filed Wednesday in 2nd Circuit Court alleges the killing of 35-year-old Pukalani resident Eduardo Alejandro Cerezo occurred after the mall owner and other defendants failed to intervene when defendant Kumulipo Sylva threatened Cerezo on March 18, 2018.

Ed Krampitz, general manager of Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, said by email Monday that “as of right now we can’t comment on pending litigation.”

In a jury trial last month, Sylva, 24, was found guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter for killing Cerezo, who police said was nearly decapitated and died instantly when he was struck in his neck with a machete.

Earlier that afternoon, Sylva had gotten off the Maui Bus at the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani but got back on the same bus after Cerezo and a friend boarded it, according to the complaint.

A pair of buses sit outside the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center bus hub in October. The family of Alex Cerezo, who was killed in a second-floor bathroom shortly after getting off a bus at the mall in March 2018, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the mall ownership; the property manager; security services; Maui County, which operates the bus and its hub at the mall; and Kumulipo Sylva, who was convicted of killing Cerezo. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

It says Sylva “was seen raising his arms in the air, talking to himself, and gyrating back and forth as if he was experiencing a psychotic episode.”

Sylva began shouting and threatening Cerezo, calling him a demon and aiming a slingshot at him, according to the complaint. Sylva later moved to the back of the bus behind Cerezo and brandished a machete that he took out of his backpack, the complaint says.

At Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, both Sylva and Cerezo got off the bus and Sylva threatened Cerezo and challenged him to a fight before Cerezo walked away, the complaint says. After Sylva returned and again threatened Cerezo, a bus driver got out to ask Cerezo and his friend if they were OK, the complaint says.

It says that the bus driver didn’t call security or police, and mall employees and security officers didn’t intervene despite “the loud and boisterous threats made by Sylva against Alex and others.”

Despite issues with homeless people, no security officers were stationed in the bus stop area, the complaint says. It also says no security officers or surveillance cameras were posted near the secluded dead-end hallway to the bathroom near the Macy’s men’s store, despite “numerous past incidents of crime and violence” in the area.

A week before the killing, a bus driver told police he had notified Queen Ka’ahumanu Center that Sylva was armed with a machete, which he had been swinging in the air while waiting at the bus stop March 7, 2018, according to the complaint.

The complaint says the killing of Cerezo was the third stabbing in a second-story bathroom at the shopping center in Kahului since 2011.

On May 23, 2011, a 21-year-old Makawao man was stabbed from behind while washing his hands in the same bathroom in an unprovoked attack, according to the complaint. Both the victim and the man who did the stabbing had taken the bus to the mall, the complaint says.

Another unprovoked stabbing occurred Oct. 12, 2012, in a second-floor bathroom near the food court when a man was punched, held in a chokehold and stabbed with scissors. A homeless man was arrested for the stabbing.

The complaint alleges that “no substantive security measures were implemented” by the mall until January after two other violent acts.

On Jan. 3, a man reportedly brandished a knife and forced a 40-year-old woman into the men’s bathroom before she managed to escape.

On Jan. 9, a 55-year-old woman was robbed at gunpoint by two people in the parking structure next to Macy’s.

In a Jan. 21 news release, QKC said it was adding video surveillance cameras to restroom hallways and increasing security personnel and police presence. The mall also said it had notified Maui County that its lease for the bus transit hub wouldn’t be renewed after its expiration Jan. 31, 2020.

In addition to QKC Maui Owner LLC, the complaint names as defendants property manager Pendulum Property Partners LLC; Universal Protection Service LP, doing business as Allied Universal Security Services, which provides security services at the mall; Maui County, which operates the Maui Bus and its hub at the mall; and Sylva.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Eduardo Alejandro Cerezo,” Vanessa Showalter, corporate public relations manager for Allied Universal, said by email Monday. “At Allied Universal, all litigation matters are taken very seriously but the company does not comment on pending litigation.”

Maui County spokesman Chris Sugidono said, “The county does not comment on pending litigation.”

Captain Cook, Hawaii island, attorney Jeffrey Foster filed the lawsuit on behalf of Cerezo’s mother, Patricia Villarruel, who is personal representative of his estate, and a representative of his minor child. The complaint seeks unspecified damages.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.