Some of the most unusual Tribune-Herald news stories of 2017

  • This vial with sand purportedly from Papakolea Beach in Ka'u is shown, with a quarter for size comparison. (Image from eBay)
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald In this August photo, police document damage to a stolen county Hele-On Bus in the parking lot of the Sparky Kawamoto Aquatic Complex in Hilo.

Under normal circumstances, the news is serious business.

Sometimes, however, circumstances make the news weird, wacky and occasionally humorous. Reporters covering the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, had their hands full in 2017 — often trying to reconcile what the president or his aides said with their own grasp of the facts.

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That disconnect created what the editor of the “Yale Book of Quotations” chose as the first — and second — most notable quotes of the year. Both quotes came during a Jan. 22 interview of presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway on the NBC News program “Meet the Press,” and contained two words that would soon become a catchphrase — “alternative facts.”

On the Big Island, we’ve reported our own share of unusual, quirky — and sometimes downright incredible stories in the past year, recapped here.

Alternative facts

A 30-year-old Hilo man arrested twice in a five-day span for trespassing at the Hilo Walmart presented his own alternative facts to what appeared in a police report in Hilo District Court.

In January, Christopher Andrew Snow, who had been served with four trespassing notices by Walmart in the previous year, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor trespassing charges, but told Judge Peter Bresciani, “It seems I can’t even walk by Walmart without getting arrested for trespassing.”

A clearly aggravated Bresciani said, “According to the police report, you were in the store, you weren’t in the parking lot.”

The judge sentenced Snow to 20 days with credit for time served and warned, “You can expect 30 days jail the next time. If you want to be someplace for 30 days, you know how to get lodging and food for 30 days.”

Sand dollars

Those without the time or money to take a barefoot stroll on a sandy Hawaii beach could buy some sand from one of those beaches and have it shipped to them via online auction and sales giant eBay.

The catch? With a few exceptions that don’t include online commerce, it’s illegal to take sand from Hawaii beaches, other than that which clings to your body, clothing, towel, etc.

Civil penalties for violating the law can be steep — “a civil fine not to exceed $100,000” or “a civil fine not to exceed $10,000 a day for each day in which the violation persists” — according to Hawaii Revised Statutes 205A-32.

On a tip, the Tribune-Herald found numerous sellers of sand purportedly from Hawaii beaches, including rare olivine sand from Papakolea Beach, also known as Green Sand Beach in Ka‘u.

Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward said the state agency was investigating a case of “sale of sand” on social media, but didn’t say if it was on eBay.

Ryan Moore, eBay director of global corporate affairs and communication, said in an email the company removed the sand sale listings after the Tribune-Herald notified it of the law barring the taking of sand from Hawaii beaches and the open DLNR investigation.

Taking the bus

A 21-year-old Hilo man is facing multiple felony theft and other charges for allegedly twice taking a county Hele-On bus — literally.

Kawelo Nakamura allegedly entered the county’s Mass Transit Agency baseyard on East Lanikaula Street in Hilo in the early morning hours of Aug. 5, a Saturday, and drove off with a bus valued at $273,670.

The bus was reportedly involved in a minor hit-and-run collision on Railroad Avenue in Hilo, sideswiping the driver’s side-view mirror of a car while passing.

The other driver said she had her children in the car and swerved off the pavement into some grass to avoid additional damage to her vehicle.

Police spotted the bus that afternoon on Route 130 in Puna, stopped it near the intersection of Kaohuwalu Street in Pahoa, and arrested Nakamura, whom officers said was driving.

Three days later, Hilo District Judge Diana Van De Car allowed Nakamura to go free on supervised release, over the objection of Deputy Prosecutor Glenn Shiigi, who had asked that Nakamura’s $13,000 bail be maintained.

Then on Aug. 27, another bus was pilfered from the Mass Transit Agency baseyard in the early morning hours.

“I think we learned the bus was missing when (somebody) saw it hele on-ing down the Hamakua Coast,” said Curt Sharp, then under contract to the county as a transit consultant.

Police said they received reports that the 42-passenger bus was seen heading in the Hamakua direction over the Wailuku Bridge on Highway 19 and later on Queen Kaahumanu Highway near the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows in South Kohala.

Nakamura was arrested a short time later at the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation’s Hoolulu Complex, where the bus was found, damaged and abandoned.

Nakamura has two court dates scheduled in early January and and remains in Hawaii Community Correctional Center in lieu of $60,000 bail.

Truckin’

Incredible as it may seem, neither bus theft was the first time in 2017 a valuable specialty vehicle had been swiped from the Mass Transit Agency’s baseyard and damaged.

According to police, on April 22, a 2016 Ford F-350 utility box truck was stolen from the baseyard and driven recklessly through Hilo during Merrie Monarch weekend. Authorities said the vehicle was involved in at least two hit-and-run collisions and a pair of police pursuits. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Two days later, police responded to a report of a gunshot fired out of a vehicle matching the truck’s description at the corner of Paradise Drive and 29th Avenue in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

Police arrested the man accused of the gunshot, 19-year-old Eric Wilson Jr. of Keaau, later that day in Mountain View. He’s since been accused of three subsequent gun incidents and is in custody in HCCC in lieu of $610,000 bail.

The truck, worth $73,000, had been found a short time earlier, torched and totaled, in a remote corner of Fern Acres subdivision. Since the county is self-insured, the bill for its loss, as well as damage to the stolen buses, will be footed by taxpayers.

Another man, 25-year-old Jeremy Kalehua Rafael of Hilo, pleaded guilty to stealing the truck, and is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 31.

Emergency response

Police acted quickly when an ambulance was reported stolen July 21 from the entrance to the emergency room at Hilo Medical Center.

The emergency vehicle, worth about $100,000 and owned by American Medical Response, was recovered less than an hour later on Leilani Street near the Hilo landfill. According to police, the ambulance crashed in reverse through a locked gate belonging to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, causing about $2,000 damage to the gate and less than $500 damage to the vehicle’s rear bumper.

A 24-year-old Hilo man, Maksim Viktor Stasyuk, was arrested and charged with first-degree theft and third- and fourth-degree property damage. At his initial court appearance, he pranced in and out of the courtroom, smiling, sticking out his tongue and mugging.

A mental examination is pending and Stasyuk remains in custody in lieu of $18,000 bail.

April Fools

Police say a 21-year-old Waikoloa man fabricated a story about being abducted — on April Fools’ Day.

Dwain Lum-Young reportedly told officers on April 1 that he’d picked up a male hitchhiker the previous evening on Mauna Kea Beach Drive and the man assaulted him and attempted to force him to drive to Waimea.

During the same incident, Lum-Young reported his vehicle was involved in an accident with another vehicle and he left the scene due to the alleged kidnapper’s actions.

As Kona police detectives investigated, they determined the reported kidnapping and assault incidents didn’t occur.

Lum-Young pleaded no contest to making a false report and leaving the scene and the third charge was dropped. He was sentenced to two days in jail and ordered to perform 47 hours of community service.

Green on St. Paddy’s

An incident March 17 in Paukaa seemed at first blush to be a St. Patrick’s Day stunt gone awry — but it wasn’t a joke, and three men were charged with felony livestock theft and other offenses.

The men — 47-year-old Ross Pacheco of Papaikou, 29-year-old Cody Pacheco-Dela Cruz of Paauilo and 37-year-old Jason Fiesta, of no permanent address — stole seven goats that were spray-painted green by the animals’ owner for identification purposes, according to Deputy Prosecutor Glenn Shiigi.

Police say the goat farmer, 38-year-old Mark Crivello, reported his goats stolen from a fenced area. A few hours later, Crivello saw a truck on Kaiwiki Road with the green goats in its bed. He reportedly stopped the truck and confronted the driver and his two passengers.

The three suspects remained at the scene and were taken into custody by police.

Going with the flow

While 93 moviegoers watched “Manchester By the Sea” on Jan. 27 at the Palace Theater in Hilo, a couple of theater staffers witnessed a different spectacle.

According to court documents filed by police, 34-year-old Brian George Upham, a Hilo man with no permanent address, urinated on the lobby floor in plain view of two female employees and mere steps from the men’s bathroom.

“The movie had started, so I don’t think any patrons actually saw what happened,” Morgen Bahurinsky, the Palace’s executive director, said.

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Upham, who according to a document was “highly intoxicated,” pleaded no contest to an open lewdness charge in Hilo District Court.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.