Family of Fil-Am charged in fatal Minessota van fire speaks out, seeking help

MINNESOTA — The family of Roberto Hipolito, a 71-year old Filipino man facing manslaughter charges, are rallying support for his defense.

Earlier this month Roberto, known to his family as Obet, was arrested for an accidental van fire in a Walmart parking lot in Fridley, Minnesota.

The flames were believed to have come from a portable hot stove he used to cook earlier in the day, spread to an adjacent van, taking the life of a 6-year-old, while injuring a 9-year-old.

And as he faces a second-degree manslaughter charge and a pair of negligent counts, his family wants people to know that Obet is a good man.

His daughter, who’s based overseas, spoke to ABS-CBN News via Skype. She recalls her father’s kindness, work ethic, and willingness to put others first.

“All they have to say about my dad is he’s a good guy not the kind of how media has probably portraying him as a negligent kind of guy. No matter how professional you are, sometimes you make a mistake and start fires because it’s an accident, that’s all it is,” said Athena Sseddogeth.

Hipolito migrated from Tondo, Philippines to the United States several decades ago.

After losing his job as an accountant during the recession, this Long Beach, California-based Pinoy found work as a journeyman technician for telecommunications companies.

The job requires him to move from state to state for several months at a time, depending where he can get contracts.

Despite the hardships, his daughter who lives in Europe said he would help family members in the Philippines as well as in Long Beach.

“They never forgot their family and friends in the Philippines. They did what they could they sent balikbayan boxes, they’ve provided some money as well with tuition for several other family members, full ride to college and if there was hospital bills they would give what they can they never forget.”

Hipolito was on his way to to begin a new contract in Minnesota, when he and his wife Nema Inocencio Hipolito had camped at a Walmart parking on the eve of the incident.

The Hipolito family has begun a GoFundMe account, to help Hipolito fight his case in court.

One of His recruiters Bobby McDuffie has also been rallying support.

“You can’t help but like him, he’s the most soft-spoken friendly voice you’ll ever hear, that’s one thing, every time he calls me it was like he’s the most pleasant you can’t imagine not giving him what he wants,” said McDuffie.

They’re hoping to get enough support by his next scheduled court appearance on September 5th.

“So we’re trying to give my dad a better chance with a better representation and that’s what the GoFundMe is all about. With my mom, we’re just trying to make her feel better because she too is a victim.”

Since his arrest, Obet has spent the past several weeks in jail — including his recent birthday — and his wife who has been disabled, is being cared for by their sons.

Link to Roberto Hipolito’s GoFundMe page:

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