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Reversal of fortune An appetite for drugs drives father, son from a life of ease to one of crime

Douglas Holka was living the high life a decade ago, after he received nearly $3 million in a settlement from a construction injury.

But the money didn't last, police said, and an appetite for drugs that plagued him ever since may have turned the family fortunes.

Holka and his son, Joseph, have spent recent years involved in illegal drug activity, investigators said, activity that might help explain why the younger Holka now sits in the Niagara County Jail on charges he terrorized a sister and brother early last week, raping the girl and cutting the boy's throat with a knife.

Joseph Holka, 21, also is accused of nearly burning to the ground the house where he had held the siblings captive for nearly three hours.

One of the victims of last week's brutality gave investigators the impression that drugs played a role in the attack.

"We were in the garage," the 12-year-old boy said in a statement to Niagara County Sheriff's Investigator Joseph R. Taylor. "He was asking us for gasoline. He was jumping on top of the car, a Porsche. He was losing it."

Drugs may also explain why Joseph Holka behaved the way he did after his arrest March 7, investigators said.

A nervous Joseph Holka at first gave them a fake name, sheriff's deputies said, and told them he was related to the supervisor.

Then, on his way to jail, he calmly told them, "My girlfriend just had a baby. She was so beautiful. Have you ever seen any of your kids being born? It is so amazing. I love her so much."

Joseph Holka has a "substance abuse problem that he was being treated for," said his attorney, Michael Stuermer of Buffalo.

A grand jury indicted Holka this week on charges that include rape, arson, robbery and assault, authorities said.

Meanwhile, investigators, acquaintances and police reports paint a picture of the Holkas as a family that has lost its way.

Things took a turn for the worse, they said, when Douglas Holka was arrested on cocaine trafficking charges in 2000, and slid further downhill last August, when he and his son were charged with stealing a doctor's prescription pad and forging prescriptions for the painkiller hydrocodone.

By the time Joseph Holka was arrested last week, his father was living in a trailer park in the Town of Niagara, and Joseph in a rooming house in Wheatfield.

Tony Foss, 33, who lives next door to Joseph Holka's apartment, described Holka as a "punk kid." The only job he knew Holka ever had was setting pins at the Rapids Bowling Alley in Niagara Falls, a job he walked away from several months ago without telling Foss why.

Joseph Holka was told to stay away from the 16-year-old girl he now stands accused of raping. A male friend of the family warned him to keep his distance, investigators said.

It was a warning Holka ignored, deputies said, showing up about 10:30 p.m. March 6 at a house where the siblings were. He walked into the garage and, after jumping atop the Porsche, held two knives to the throat of the 12-year-old boy, according to police reports. He then forced both siblings into the house.

"I thought I would be dead," the boy later told investigators.

The boy said Holka held both siblings at bay, and raped his sister.

When the boy tried to get away, Holka cut him in the throat, reports say. As he did, the girl kicked Holka in the groin.

"He fell," the boy said of Holka. "Me and my sister ran down the driveway and then down the street. Joe was following."

It was after 1 a.m., but the siblings managed to flag down a passing motorist and jump in the back seat, the boy said.

"I looked through the back window, and I could see Joe was walking toward us and getting closer," he said. "Then the guy drove off and called the cops."

The brother and sister were treated at local hospitals and released.

Deputies later found a familiar defendant from a familiar family.

The elder Holka had been known to county drug investigators for more than a decade, and Joseph Holka almost since he was old enough to be arrested on adult criminal charges.

"We have a large file on this guy," Niagara County Drug Task Force Chief Mark Driess said of the elder Holka.

Driess said drug investigators knew Douglas Holka, now 47, even before he accepted an insurance settlement of $2.8 million in 1996, after falling off the roof of the Mount Mercy Academy in South Buffalo, when a defective ladder broke. He fell 15 feet through an open hatch onto a concrete floor.

The elder Holka suffered severe back pain and, according to his attorney, would never be able to work again.

After the settlement, the family moved from the City of North Tonawanda to a $200,000 home on Christi Lane in Wheatfield.

"He had a beautiful home, a Mercedes, and thought he was some kind of local big shot in 1998 after he went on a big game hunt in Africa and paid $4,000 to shoot an elephant," Driess said. "His house even had a trophy room with all kinds of animals . . .

"Anyone else would be set for life," Driess said, yet he said he predicted to Douglas Holka back then that Holka would fritter away his money if he didn't end his involvement with drugs.

Driess said the task force investigated Douglas Holka in 1999, when neighbors on Christi Lane complained about drug dealing in their neighborhood. Holka was arrested in 2000.

In Holka's house after his arrest, investigators said they found three monkeys on the wall of a trophy room, stuffed in the poses to represent the saying, "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

Douglas and Joseph Holka were charged last August with several felony counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance and forgery.

Both were charged by North Tonawanda Police with stealing a doctor's prescription pad from DeGraff Memorial Hospital and using the pad to forge illegal prescriptions for hydrocodone. The two were also charged with selling the hydrocodone pills for $3 per pill.

Hydrocodone is a narcotic similar to heroin or morphine and, with the similar drug OxyContin, is used legally as a painkiller.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com and bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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