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In brief | Big Island & State | 2-20-14

February 20, 2014 - 12:05am

Puna man dies after tractor plunges off cliff

A Puna man died Wednesday after a tractor he was operating fell off a cliff and into a stream, according to the Hawaii Police Department.

Police identified the man as Jose Luiz Hernandez-Miranda, 25, of Keaau.

Shortly after 11:26 a.m., police responded to a property on Mailekea Road, which is off Kaiwiki Road in the Wainaku area of Hilo. They learned Hernandez-Miranda had been operating a Ford tractor on a farm when he got too close to the edge of a 12-foot cliff above a stream and fell into the stream with the tractor.

Hawaii County Fire Department rescue personnel extricated him from the water and took him to Hilo Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 12:38 p.m.

Police have initiated a coroner’s inquest case and have ordered an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death. Because the accident happened on private property, the death is not included in the police department’s official fatality count.

Puna man charged in gun incident

A Puna man has been charged with five offenses in connection with a gun incident early Monday morning in Puna, according to the Hawaii County Police Department.

Puna patrol officers responded to a 2:24 a.m. call Monday to 28th Avenue in the Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision, where it was reported an acquaintance had brandished a rifle and threatened to shoot a 50-year-old man after the two got into an argument in the victim’s home.

Police recovered the rifle at the scene and arrested the suspect, Peter Johnston-Riveira, 29, of Pahoa. He was taken to the Hilo police cellblock while Area I Criminal Investigations Section detectives continued the investigation.

At 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, detectives charged Johnston-Riveira with first-degree terroristic threatening and four firearms offenses.

His bail was set at $38,000. He remained at the cellblock until his initial court appearance Wednesday, police said.

PTA convoys head to Kawaihae

Military convoys will deploy from Pohakuloa Training Area to Kawaihae Pier from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today through Feb. 28 and March 1 to 4.

Roadways affected by the convoys are Daniel K. Inouye Highway, Mamalahoa Highway, Waikoloa Road, Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Akoni Pule Highway corridor.

The convoy units will have military police escorts.

Motorists are advised to be alert and drive with care. The Department of Army Police from PTA is working with local authorities and military units to coordinate this activity in support of unit training and readiness.

For more information, call 969-2411 or 656-3154.

Mauna Kea access road reopens

The access road to the summit of Mauna Kea has reopened. However, there is still high humidity and moisture levels in the area, according to a report by Mauna Kea rangers issued 9:47 a.m. Wednesday.

Motorists are asked to use caution while driving on this road.

For the latest road conditions and snow report, call 935-6268 or visit

Soil survey available for Hawaii

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has updated soil data for each of the soil survey areas mapped in the Pacific Islands area.

The surveys cover Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. This effort updated the spatial, soil mapping, and tabular, physical and chemical properties, and interpretations, data for all soil survey areas.

The Web Soil Survey can be accessed at Detailed instructions on how to use the features are provided at that site.

For more information, email Cindy Stiles at

Entangled humpback whale rescued off Maui

HONOLULU — Marine mammal officials rescued a humpback whale near Maui by removing line wrapped around the animal’s mouth, head and right pectoral fin.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary said the emaciated whale was freed off Lahaina on Wednesday. A response team collected hundreds of feet of small gauge line afterward.

The sanctuary says the whale could have died if the gear wasn’t removed.

Officials were tracking the whale after it was spotted off Hawaii Island last week. A response team attached a transmitter package to the entangled gear Sunday.

A whale watch tour boat spotted the whale off Lahaina Wednesday morning and stood by until a response team arrived at 9:20 a.m.

Sanctuary programs administrator Fiona Langenberger said the whale’s age is unknown.

Prosecutor: Gov’t ‘screwed up’ in Hawaii meth case

HONOLULU — A federal prosecutor in his closing argument in a major Hawaii meth ring trial said the government “screwed up.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Muehleck told jurors Wednesday that federal prosecutors “made mistakes in this case.”

He was referring to the judge previously sanctioning the prosecution for misconduct, ruling the government was “sloppy” and “tardy” in providing discovery materials to the defense.

Six men went on trial in an alleged drug ring accused of trafficking hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine to Hawaii from California. The judge last week acquitted two of them for a lack of evidence.

Muehleck said evidence of a conspiracy is overwhelming against the remaining four men. He said cooperating witnesses testified the defendants used encrypted emails and code words to move drugs and money.

Flaws found in new vehicle safety stickers

WAIPAHU, Oahu — Flaws have been found in Hawaii’s new vehicle safety stickers, including printing that can easily be removed.

Kalihi mechanic George Nitta worries that if he can wipe numbers off the sticker decals, so can criminals, Hawaii News Now reported.

Nitta has found that he can wipe off the VIN number from a sticker in seconds using nail polish remover. He also believes that including the VIN numbers could attract car thieves who could use the number to have a locksmith make a set of keys.

“That is the modern way to steal cars,” he said. “Get the VIN number, go to a key guy, he makes a key. Come back. You got your car.”

The state began using the new safety inspection program last fall, with mechanics and gas stations using technology to replace the old paper-based system.

The safety check stickers changed as well. They are now printed at each destination in black ink on white labels and the state no longer employs preprinted decals in different colors for each year.

According to Nitta, people can alter the dates of their stickers by erasing a number and using a black permanent marker.

“Because you can erase it and change the date, change everything. So what good is it?” he said.

State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said the stickers are designed to hold up under normal vehicle use and washing for three years.

She said the state is always concerned about fraud. That’s why the new decals have both the VIN numbers and vehicle license plate numbers printed on them. The idea is to help deter theft and make it difficult for thieves to use the decals on different vehicles.

Island Air to stop service to Molokai

WAILUKU, Maui — Island Air announced Tuesday evening that the last flights to Molokai will be April 1.

The Maui News reported the company was purchased last year by billionaire Larry Ellison.

According to the company, all of the airline’s Molokai-based employees will be offered an opportunity to transfer elsewhere.

Island Air said it will contact customers with confirmed reservations to or from Molokai on April 2 or later. The company said those customers will receive ticket refunds or have their reservations transferred to another air carrier.

By local and wire sources