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Diver pleads not guilty in Kona scuba incident

September 3, 2014 - 11:27am

A man accused of attacking a scuba diver off the Kona coast in May pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon to second-degree terroristic threatening.

Jay Lovell did not speak during the brief arraignment and plea hearing before District Court Judge Andrew Wilson. Lovell’s attorney, Evans Smith, objected to a media request for extended coverage, which would allow a camera in the courtroom, then requested the case be taken to trial. Wilson granted the media request, although no media with cameras were present.

The charge is a misdemeanor.

Smith, when asked whether Lovell was interested in making a comment after the hearing, offered his client’s interpretation of the May encounter.

“While he was underwater, he was approached and surrounded by six strangers,” Smith said outside the courtroom.

The strangers — including Maui diver Rene Umberger, who filed the complaint alleging Lovell pulled her scuba regulator from her mouth while she was 50 feet below the surface — then blocked Lovell’s route to the surface. After the incident, Lovell called authorities to report it immediately.

“He’s not the criminal here,” Smith said.

Umberger previously told West Hawaii Today she and other divers approached Lovell with cameras to document him collecting tropical fish on the reef. Umberger has been outspoken in her opposition to tropical fish collecting on Hawaii’s reefs.

Lovell’s brother, Jim Lovell, told West Hawaii Today in July that Umberger had previously made inflammatory statements about sending the ocean activist group Sea Shepherd after tropical fish collectors here.

The trial is set for Sept. 11.

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