Woman escapes custody after court hearing


Police and sheriff’s deputies are on the look-out for a woman who apparently escaped custody after a court hearing Friday afternoon in Kona.

Lehua Banagan reportedly left the Kona District/Circuit Courthouse in Kealakekua following one hearing but did not show up for a second hearing scheduled that day, said Department of Public Safety Public Information Officer Toni Schwartz Saturday.

Schwartz said the woman had been released in one case, but not the second, and when sheriffs went to get her for a second hearing she left the courthouse. Schwartz did not have any other information immediately available, however, she did note the woman had been in court on robbery and drug offenses.

West Hawaii Bar Association Vice President Robert Kim told West Hawaii Today on Saturday that the woman escaped custody about 2 p.m. Friday, a day after a hearing before 3rd Circuit Court Chief Judge Ronald Ibarra in which the judge ordered her held on $50,000 bail. Deputies took her to the Kona District Court for a hearing Friday before Judge Joseph P. Florendo, who apparently released her in a smaller case.

The sheriff’s deputies, he said, apparently did not realize she was being held on $50,000 bail in the other case. When they tried to stop her, she fled, said Kim, who is handling legislative and other matters for the association while President Robert Borns is on vacation.

Kim said the incident brings to light the need for the Kona Judiciary Complex, which would combine Kona’s three courthouses into one centralized facility located near the West Hawaii Civic Center in North Kona.

However, funding for the project was recently removed from the state budget by the state House of Representatives’ Finance Committee before the bill moved to the state Senate. Kim said the association and Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to reinstate the funding request. The Senate version of the bill now includes $45.5 million.

Schwartz said Hawaii Police Department officers and state sheriff’s deputies are pursuing the woman. Schwartz said it is possible Banagan was unaware that she was still in custody and urged the woman to turn herself in to the nearest Hawaii Police Department station.

Anyone with information on her whereabouts is urged to call the department’s nonemergency line at 935-3311.