A man set fire to the apartment shared by his ex-girlfriend and their 2-year-old son early Thursday, authorities said, then set his mother's home ablaze before being killed by Torrance police when they found him with a knife on a middle-school campus.
Class was not in session at Madrona Middle School when Asa James Dolak, 19, was fatally shot about 1:35 p.m. Thursday, said Torrance Police Sgt. Robert Watt. Police said Dolak made it clear in telephone conversations with officers that he did not intend to be taken into custody without a fight.
"He threatened his family and threatened to kill police if confronted," Watt said. "We took that threat very serious."
The chain of events began just after midnight, when Dolak set fire to an apartment in the 16700 block of Crenshaw Boulevard. Fire crews and officers responded, rescuing the toddler.
The child was treated for smoke inhalation and was listed in fair condition at a hospital, Watt said. The mother was not injured.
Watt said the arson was the result of "a domestic dispute that started verbally on Christmas Day." But he added that it was one of several domestic issues involving Dolak and his ex-girlfriend, who has not been identified. Watt said Dolak had been arrested before by Torrance police for "minor stuff."
Police said that about 2 a.m., Dolak went to his mother's home in the 3200 block of Opal Street and set that property on fire as well. Soon after, officers found "the vehicle that he used to go from crime scene A to crime scene B," Watt said.
The sergeant said an extensive search for Dolak ensued and about 1:30 p.m. someone "that identically matched Mr. Dolak" was seen at the school. The teenage suspect was seen in a girl's restroom, bleeding from a hand and armed with a knife.
Watt said a short foot pursuit began and Dolak ran to a nearby sports field where he was fatally shot.
"He confronted the officers and failed to comply with their demands and ultimately there was an officer-involved shooting," he said. "He was armed with a knife."
Watt said the school was unoccupied because of the winter break.
Tommy Angiano, 34, a manager at Mr. Rooter in Gardena, said Dolak did some work for the company but was fired last summer. Angiano said Dolak's mother asked about a job for her son during a plumbing repair at her house.
Dolak became a plumber's helper, and at the beginning, Angiano said, he was a good worker who was willing to show up any time of the day and willing to get his hands dirty. But as time went by, Angiano said, Dolak stopped listening to directions and once threatened a co-worker.
"He was just real quiet. Way too quiet," Angiano said, adding that Dolak could get "pretty angry," though the result was usually a quiet seething as opposed to verbal or physical altercations.
"You would see him get pretty angry and then go quiet," he said.
Still, Angiano said he was surprised when he found out about Dolak's alleged role in the arson attacks and his death.
"I'm still shocked about it," he said.
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