County getting its ‘security act together’ after second bus stolen

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The second theft of a Hele-On bus within a month, allegedly by the same individual, has county officials scrambling to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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The second theft of a Hele-On bus within a month, allegedly by the same individual, has county officials scrambling to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Mayor Harry Kim said Tuesday he met with Curt Sharp, the retired Marine Corps officer serving his second 89-day contract as a consultant to the beleaguered county Mass Transit Agency. Kim said the original purpose of the meeting was the status of the new 5.3-acre Mass Transit Agency baseyard set to open in October on Leilani Street, but security was a prominent item of discussion.

“I told them, ‘You will come back with recommendations of all the things you consider … possible, and we will review them,’” Kim said.

Sharp said he’s already in the process of arranging “physical security, 24/7” for the current baseyard on East Lanikaula Street.

“That’s the only thing we can do,” Sharp said. “… The top man … basically said we need the security, so what we’re doing is following up on that. We’re trying to get that done this week or early next week. … In my mind, that’s the course that we’re taking right now, the only one that’s left for us.”

The buses can be started by pushing a button, with a kill switch located in the engine compartment. Asked if measures such as a steering wheel club, wheel boot tire lock or Lojack would be effective, Sharp replied, “No.”

“People need to understand these buses put in a hard day’s work, then they come back to the depot,” he said. “We have the mechanics that go over them to make sure that everything’s OK. And then, they’re washed and parked for the next event. And sometimes, those events start at 1:30, 2:30 in the morning, the next day … one of those runs being from here to Waikoloa, Hamakua Coast, Waimea, Kona.

“All we are doing right now is ensuring we’re securing our little piece of a 6-acre Department of Public Works section. We’ve got one little corner of that whole thing, not even an acre, and, unfortunately, right by the front gate. So we’re going to have to get security.

“(Acting Mass Transit Administrator) Tiffany Kai has sent out instructions to everyone, basically saying as soon as security is there, they’re going to start looking at your badges. … So you’ll need a badge to get into the gate.”

Although police said it appears the suspect, 21-year-old Kawelo Nakamura of Hilo, cut the lock to the gate of the baseyard, Sharp said the fence, in spots, is as low as 4 feet.

“I was able to high-jump it, and I’m 72 years old,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty, but I did it.”

Police said Nakamura was charged Tuesday with first-degree theft, resisting an order to stop, reckless endangering, reckless driving, driving without a commercial driver’s license, driving a stolen vehicle, property damage and two counts of inattention to driving for Monday’s bus theft.

His bail was set at $42,000, and his initial appearance is set for today in Hilo District Court.

Nakamura also was arraigned Tuesday in Hilo Circuit Court for the first bus theft, which happened Aug. 5. He pleaded not guilty to first-degree theft, driving a stolen vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident, criminal property damage and driving the bus without a commercial driver’s license.

Acting Hilo Circuit Judge Harry Freitas ordered Nakamura to appear for trial at 9 a.m. Jan. 8, 2018, and set bail for those charges at $18,000, making Nakamura’s total bail $60,000.

Nakamura was on supervised release for those charges when the second bus theft occurred.

“The buses made headlines because of such an unusual, ridiculous thing … where the same guy steals a bus twice, just for joyrides,” Kim said. “And, yes, we have to look at that and negate anything we can to stop further occurrences, because this is going to cost us money, because he did damage the bus.

“You count your blessings … because he easily could have caused harm to people. We were lucky he did not.”

Sharp estimated damage to the stolen bus and two other buses damaged in the process at between $10,000 and $12,000.

“I want to emphasize that the mayor and I are very serious about this, that we get our security act together,” he said. “We thought we did everything we could, and it didn’t work. The same guy came back in. Unbelievable. It’s like the same bank robber going back to the same bank and robbing the same bank.

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“We went through all the hoops very quickly, and as of Monday morning, we got the A-OK to set up physical security 24/7 in the area. So that’s what we’re working on right now.”

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

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