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In brief | Big Island & State | 2-10-14

February 10, 2014 - 10:17pm

Autopsy: Kona man died from medical condition

An autopsy was conducted Friday on the body of Matthew B. Lee, 52, of Kailua-Kona, who died Wednesday in a two-vehicle crash on Queen Kaahumanu Highway near mile marker 71.5, according to the Hawaii County Police Department.

The medical examiner determined Lee died from a medical condition and not from injuries sustained in the crash, police said.

The Traffic Enforcement Unit has reclassified the negligent homicide investigation to a coroner’s inquest. As a result, the traffic fatality count has been reduced to three fatalities this year, compared with seven at this time last year, police said.

Oahu man dies after fall from cliff in Pepeekeo

A 24-year-old Oahu man died Sunday after falling approximately 80 feet off a cliff in Pepeekeo and Big Island police are investigating this public accident.

Responding to the 11:24 a.m. call, rescue personnel found the man unresponsive on a rocky beach near the shoreline access off Loa Road. Four of the victim’s friends were on the scene. They reportedly witnessed the man trying to climb down the cliff to the beach and fall, according to the Hawaii County Fire Department.

The victim has been identified as Keylan Sato of Honolulu, police said.

Sato had severe traumatic injuries and was in full cardiac arrest. Emergency Medical Services personnel attempted advanced life support resuscitation while transporting him to Hilo Medical Center via ambulance, the Fire Department said.

Sato was pronounced dead at 12:45 p.m. Sunday at Hilo Medical Center. Police have ordered an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.

Hilo man charged in connection to robbery

Big Island police have charged the 54-year-old Hilo man who was arrested Thursday in connection with a reported robbery in downtown Hilo.

At 5:05 p.m. Friday, Area I Criminal Investigations Section detectives charged John Michael Kapahu with second-degree robbery. His bail was set at $25,000. He was being held at the Hilo police cell block pending his initial appearance scheduled for today, according to the Hawaii County Police Department.

Around 12:03 p.m. Wednesday, police responded to the Mooheau bus terminal after receiving a report of a fight. A 32-year-old Hakalau man reported an acquaintance took an undisclosed amount of money from him while at Mooheau Bandstand. When the victim attempted to retrieve the money, the suspect reportedly punched him several times and fled the area. The victim sustained facial injuries. Fire Department medics took him to Hilo Medical Center, where he was treated and later released, police said.

Thursday morning, police arrested Kapahu, who has no permanent address, and held him at the police cell block while Area I Criminal Investigations Section detectives continued the investigation.

Hawaii County police arrest 18 for DUI

Between Feb. 3 and Sunday, police arrested 18 motorists for suspected driving under the influence of an intoxicant.

Three drivers were involved in traffic crashes and one was younger than 21, according to the Hawaii County Police Department.

There have been 148 suspected drunken driving arrests this year, compared with 119 during the same period last year, a 24.4 percent increase.

There have been 147 major accidents this year, compared with 150 during the same period last year, a 2 percent decrease. There have been three traffic fatalities on Hawaii Island in 2014, compared with eight during the same period last year, a 62.5 percent decline. To date, one fatality was related to a combination of drugs and alcohol.

EPA orders changes to Hu Honua’s pollution permit

The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the state’s Clean Air Branch to modify or reissue an air pollution permit for the proposed Hu Honua Bioenergy facility in Pepeekeo.

In a 32-page opinion issued Friday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy ruled the Clean Air Branch, which is a division of the Department of Health, failed to take into consideration pertinent factors when it issued its permit for the proposed 21.5-megawatt power plant under construction on the 25-acre site of the former Hilo Coast Processing Co. Those issues include pollutants that would be generated during start-up, shutdown and malfunctions in the facility, as well as by certain types of equipment, such as backup generators.

“It requires the state to rescind the permit and either modify it or reissue it; they’ll have to address some of the technical issues that are raised,” said Santa Barbara, Calif.-based attorney Mark Chytilo, who represents the community group Preserve Pepeekeo Health and Environment, on Monday. The group filed a petition under the Clean Air Act asking McCarthy to formally object to the issuance of the permit. That petition was partially granted and partially denied.

“We raised a whole bunch of issues. They didn’t hold for us on all of them, but they held for us on some of the most critical ones,” Chytilo said.

Kerry Drake, associate director of the Air Division in EPA’s San Francisco office, said that the current permit remains valid while the Clean Air Branch drafts another permit proposal.

State eyes stiff taxes on e-smoking devices

HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers on Monday advanced bills that could heavily tax electronic smoking devices in the state.

People who sell the devices, also called vaporizers or e-cigs, turned out to hearings Friday and Monday to oppose the bills (SB 2495 and SB 2496). They said the devices help people stop smoking cigarettes and that high taxes could put their shops out of business.

One of the three bills lawmakers are considering originally called for an 85 percent wholesale tax on the devices, which can sell for $100 or more. That proposed tax rate isn’t expected to pass in the Legislature because several lawmakers said the devices may help people quit smoking cigarettes.

“We have to find a balance between public health and cessation advantage in this particular product,” said Health Committee Chairman Sen. Josh Green, a Democrat representing Kona and Kau.

Retailers testified that taxing what they called smoking-cessation devices as heavily as tobacco would discourage smokers from buying the devices.

“I understand the tax, but not an 85 percent tax,” said Tony Muller, 31, who owns and runs the Vaping Section Hawaii, a shop in Honolulu. “That’s going to drive people away from quitting smoking. Ten or 15 percent, I don’t have a problem.”

Sean Anderson, 37, who owns and runs Black Lava Vape in Kona, said he quit smoking several times when he used a nicotine patch, only to return to cigarettes. What got him, all seven of his employees and many of his customers to stop, he said, was switching to an electronic smoking device.

“I’ve had people come in and give me a hug,” Anderson said. “They’re like, ‘You saved my life.’ When I got into this (business), of course I wanted to make money. But it changed. That’s why I’m so passionate about this.”

Vaporizers help smokers quit because they still get the sensation of exhaling and inhaling, in addition to the nicotine buzz, Anderson said.

A 2013 study in the Harm Reduction Journal described findings similar to that anecdotal evidence. Because e-cigs replace some smoking rituals and deliver nicotine vapor without actual smoke, the authors found, the devices “might be the most promising product for tobacco harm reduction to date.”

The bills still have another committee to clear before heading to the Senate floor for a vote.

On Tuesday, lawmakers will consider a bill (SB 2222) that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including the cartridges for e-cigs. That measure, aimed at preventing children from taking up tobacco, would also make electronic smoking devices less appealing to adult smokers, retailers said.

3 accused of mailing meth in dummy heads

HONOLULU — There was something unusual about three mannequin heads found inside a UPS parcel being mailed from San Bernardino, Calif., to Hawaii: They each had two pounds of methamphetamine stuffed inside them, authorities said.

Now, three men face drug charges in Hawaii. One of the men, Anthony Buzio Sanchez, pleaded guilty in federal court in Honolulu on Monday to a charge of attempted possession with intent to distribute.

Through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, Sanchez said he intended to sell the drugs to pay for his father’s cancer treatment. Sanchez, who said he was born in Mexico and is living in the United States illegally, faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced in June.

On May 6, a Riverside County Sheriff’s deputy intercepted a cardboard box being mailed from San Bernardino to Honolulu, according to a criminal complaint.

Once a deputy sheriff got a California search warrant, investigators found inside shirts, shorts, slippers, towels and three boxes individually wrapped in pink and gold paper. The wrapped boxes “each contained a mannequin head with about 2 pounds of methamphetamine inside, totaling 2,932 grams of methamphetamine,” the court document said.

After the drugs were discovered, the contents were mailed by FedEx to federal agents in Honolulu, where an undercover agent posing as a delivery man brought the parcel to the Honolulu address for which it was originally destined.

No one answered the door during two attempts to deliver the package. On the third attempt, a man identified in court papers as Carlos Gallego signed for the parcel.

On May 9, agents followed Gallego as he drove the box about 19 miles to a home in Waipahu, where the other men were arrested.

Sanchez, Gallego and Miguel Angel Rios Ruiz were indicted that month. They initially pleaded not guilty to the meth-distribution charge. Gallego was scheduled for a pretrial conference on Monday and his attorney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Ruiz is scheduled to change his plea on Friday.

“He had nothing to do with this,” Sanchez said of Ruiz but didn’t elaborate.

Sanchez told the judge he paid Gallego $5,000 to receive the parcel and deliver it to the Waipahu home.

Man suffers stab wounds on Waikiki street

HONOLULU — A man is in critical condition after a stabbing in Waikiki.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported a man in his 30s was found with stab wounds at 8:20 p.m. Sunday on Lemon Road.

The Honolulu Emergency Medical Services Division paramedics transported the man to a hospital.

Honolulu police are investigating the incident.

By local and wire sources

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