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In Brief | Big Island & State | 4-26-14

Updated: 
April 26, 2014 - 12:05am

Gopher snake found, killed in Keaau

A live snake was discovered and killed Thursday afternoon at a store in Keaau, according to state agriculture officials.

Workers offloading a 40-foot shipping container from California saw the 2-foot brown snake and prevented its escape by hitting it. The snake, which has been identified as a nonvenomous gopher snake, has since died and was shipped to Honolulu Friday morning.

“We appreciate the quick action taken by store employees to stop the snake’s escape,” said Scott Enright, state Department of Agriculture chairman. “Hitchhiking snakes are a constant concern for the department. This situation demonstrates how important it is for all of us to be on the lookout for invasive species.”

Gopher snakes are commonly found in North America and may grow up to about 7 feet. Their diet consists of small rodents, young rabbits, lizards, birds and their eggs. Prey is killed by constriction and suffocation.

Snakes, which are illegal in Hawaii, have no natural predators here and pose a serious threat to the local environment. Many species prey on birds and their eggs, increasing the threat to endangered native birds. Large snakes can also be a danger to the public and small pets.

State agriculture officials urge anyone with information on illegal animals to call the state’s toll-free pest hotline at 643-PEST. Individuals who have illegal animals are encouraged to turn them in under the state’s amnesty program, which provides immunity from prosecution. Illegal animals may be turned in to any HDOA office, community zoo or Humane Society — no questions asked and no fines assessed.

New commercial ocean use rules approved

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources has approved a package of rule changes that limit commercial use permits, require registration and fees for commercial surfboards, canoes and other watercraft, and require all commercial activities in state waters to obtain a permit. The rules limit the number of ramp permits that may be in place at Honokohau Harbor to 35, 11 for Keauhou Bay and six for Kailua Pier. New businesses may not own more than two commercial use permits, under the new rules. Existing ocean recreation businesses may keep the permits they have in excess of two under a grandfather provision.

Sulfuric acid spilled Friday on Hilo road

Hawaii County emergency response teams investigated a sulfuric acid spill early Friday afternoon in Hilo.

Battalion Chief Warren Sumida said approximately 250 gallons of sulfuric acid fell off the back of a flatbed truck at BEI Hawaii located at 430 Kekuanaoa St.

BEI Hawaii distributes fertilizers, industrial and agricultural chemicals.

Kekuanaoa Street was closed temporarily while BEI employees cleaned up the spill.

Sumida said other emergency response teams were called upon to investigate potential damages

Sumida said the spill leaked into a nearby dry well and Department of Health representatives were on the scene testing the waters near Wailoa River State Recreation area to see if any contamination had occurred.

Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the spill was contained.

“It was discovered that the acid spill from the BEI location was contained in a dry well and none of the acid reached the Waiakea Pond or any waters in our park,” she said.

Sumida said one employee was taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Robbery suspect turns himself in

Hawaii Island police have located two individuals seen in surveillance images and wanted in connection with a robbery at a department store in Hilo on Good Friday.

Tuesday, the two turned themselves in at the Hilo police station. Police arrested 19-year-old Obed Kamanao Kuahiwinui Jr. of Hilo on suspicion of robbery and theft. He was taken to the Hilo police cellblock while detectives continued the investigation. A 15-year-old girl was arrested and released to her parents without charges.

After conferring with prosecutors, detectives charged Kuahiwinui with second-degree robbery and fourth-degree theft Wednesday. His bail was set at $5,250. He made his initial court appearance on Thursday.

On April 18, a female patron was observed concealing an item and then exiting a store in a shopping mall on Puainako Street without paying, according to police.

After store employees confronted her and a male companion outside the store and attempted to escort them inside, the male companion threw one of the employees to the ground, causing injuries to his head and ribs, according to police. The pair then fled the area on foot in the direction of Makaala Street.

Their images captured on video surveillance were instrumental in the investigation.

Key committee approves $1.5M for Hawaii exchange

HONOLULU — A key committee in the Hawaii Legislature approved a proposal to give $1.5 million to the state’s troubled health exchange, but the funding amount was well below the $4.7 million that officials from the Hawaii Health Connector had recently asked for.

Sen. Committee Chairman Rosalyn Baker said the amount was not what she was hoping for, but the Legislature is dealing with a budget crunch and has a lot of programs to fund.

Tom Matsuda, who leads the Hawaii Health Connector, said the exchange will survive. But he did not have an immediate answer to how it would reduce spending to that level.

“We just heard this decision, so we have to do some planning,” Matsuda said after the hearing. “Ultimately, it’s the board’s decision.”

The $1.5 million still has to be approved by the full House and Senate. It would help the Connector fund its operations for six months starting next January. Matsuda had projected that the Connector would have a $4.7 million deficit during those six months, after the timeline to spend federal funds expired. The budget shortfall in 2016 was estimated to be $8.9 million, Matsuda recently told the Legislature.

Bus company ordered to give back pay

HONOLULU — The U.S. Department of Labor says a Waikiki tour bus company has been ordered to pay $40,000 in back pay and damages to 22 workers forced to work overtime.

The federal agency says Blue Wave Tours Inc. paid tour bus drivers based on how many trips they worked. The agency said the company ignored hours worked beyond a normal 40-hour work week.

Hawaii District Director Terence Trotter said employees must be paid for overtime regardless of whether they’re paid by the trip or by the hour.

Hawaii Department of Education investigating official

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Department of Education is investigating its civil rights compliance director after complaints she conducted poor investigations and did campaign work on state time.

Hawaii News Now reported that department spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz confirmed the investigation of Susan Kitsu but declined to comment on details.

Kitsu declined comment to the television station. She is being represented by her union, the Hawaii Government Employees’ Association.

Civil rights attorney Eric Seitz said he believes Kitsu may be taking blame for institutional failings that have been going on a long time. He said the department has denied students mental health treatments and programs.

A campaign spokeswoman for state Sen. David Ige, who is challenging Gov. Neil Abercrombie in a Democratic primary, said Kitsu stepped down as deputy treasurer in February.

Report: Stowaway’s mom says son believed her dead

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The mother of a California teenager who stowed away on a flight to Hawaii told Voice of America that her son had recently learned that she was alive after being told by his father she had died.

Speaking with VOA from a refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia, Ubah Mohamed Abdullahi said she felt bad that her son risked his life and that her dream is to live with her children in the United States.

“I cried, felt badly and many people in the refugee camp came to me to give me support,” she said.

FBI agents said surveillance video shows the 15-year-old jumping out of the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines jet on a Maui tarmac Sunday after surviving a cross-Pacific flight from San Jose, Calif. He told authorities he had argued with his father before leaving his house.

The 5 1/2-hour flight over the Pacific would have exposed him to sub-zero temperatures and low oxygen levels, likely knocking him out for the duration. He has been hospitalized ever since.

The boy’s parents are divorced, and he lives with his father, Abdilahi Yusuf Abdi, a cab driver in Santa Clara, Calif.

Abdullahi said her ex-husband took their three children to California without her knowledge, and she hadn’t heard from them since 2006.

“I know he was looking for me, and I am requesting the U.S. government to help me reunite with my kids,” she told VOA.

Hawaii underserves Chinese visitors: airline CEO

HONOLULU — The CEO of Hawaiian Airlines says Hawaii’s hospitality industry must do more to make Chinese visitors feel welcome.

Mark Dunkerley told a retailers’ convention on Thursday that the state is unprepared for the potential number of Chinese visitors the state could receive. He said a survey found that Chinese visitors do not see Hawaii as a friendly destination.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that Dunkerley sees several obstacles for Hawaii to tap into the potentially vast Chinese market. Those include a lack of mid- and low-priced hotels, not enough promotion in China and too few Mandarin speakers in Waikiki.

Dunkerley said Japanese visitors last year outnumbered Chinese visitors more than 10-to-1. But he notes that Chinese visitors’ average daily spending in Hawaii was the most of any region.

By local and wire sources