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Lum Ho survives scare prior to Merrie Monarch win

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Last week proved an exciting one for Johnny Lum Ho.

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Last week proved an exciting one for Johnny Lum Ho.

The revered Hilo kumu hula, whose Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua won the wahine hula kahiko (ancient hula), wahine hula ‘auana (modern hula) and wahine overall titles this past weekend at the Merrie Monarch Festival, was one of two drivers whose cars were struck by a stolen tractor-trailer truck the night before the hula competition started.

According to court documents filed by police, Lum Ho told officers he was driving south on Pilipaa Street in Hilo’s Panaewa neighborhood at about 6:45 p.m. Wednesday when the Freightliner tractor-trailer overtook him at a high rate of speed and hit the driver’s side of Lum Ho’s car, forcing him off the roadway and onto the lawn of a home at 54 Pilipaa St.

Another driver, Jose Morales, told police he was driving north on Pilipaa and saw the tractor-trailer overtake Lum Ho’s car. Morales told officers the large truck almost collided head-on with his vehicle. According to documents, Morales swerved off the road in an attempt to avoid the collision and was struck on the rear of the driver’s side of his vehicle.

Neither driver was injured, police said.

Documents state 30-year-old Solomon Aloha Kepano, a homeless Hilo man, took the keys to the truck and several others from a lock box at Hawaii Food Service Alliance on Makaala Street, then took the truck, which was loaded with food, plowed through the warehouse’s closed gate, and drove south, eventually making his way to Pilipaa Street.

Police said the stolen truck then struck and severed a utility pole, then ran off the street and crashed into the house at 54 Pilipaa St.

None of the house’s three residents were injured, but two, Matangi Moala and Milton Ah Nee, told police they saw Kepano try to reverse the truck off the property, documents state. When he was unsuccessful in doing so, he got out of the truck and started walking away.

Moala and Ah Nee told police when Kepano refused to stop after several requests, they apprehended and physically detained him until officers arrived, according to documents.

A manager at Hawaii Food Service Alliance reportedly told police the tractor-trailer and its contents are worth a combined $190,000.

Kepano, who was charged with first- and fourth-degree theft plus criminal property damage and several counts of reckless endangering and leaving the scene of an accident, made his initial court appearance Monday.

Deputy Public Defender Austin Hsu asked Hilo District Judge Diana Van De Car to grant Kepano, who has no prior felony record, supervised release and noted his client had been in custody six days.

“The fact is he only has one prior conviction … ,” Hsu said. “He will undergo anger management assessment and mental health assessment and follow treatment as recommended.”

Deputy Prosecutor Glenn Shiigi requested Kepano’s $9,100 bail be maintained “for the protection of the community.”

“The defendant has no permanent address; he is homeless … ,” Shiigi said. “He allegedly stole a fully loaded tractor-trailer and … damaged a gate … while taking that tractor-trailer. He was involved in two separate motor vehicle accidents and left the scene of both of those motor vehicle accidents.”

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Van De Car reduced Kepano’s bail to $4,075 and ordered him to appear at 2 p.m. today for a preliminary hearing.

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

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