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Neighbors surprised by theft at South Kona farm

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today

    Vehicles, fuel and equipment recently were reported stolen from Kona Queen Hawaii Farm in Captain Cook.

CAPTAIN COOK — The Captain Cook bee farm owners who were robbed of $150,000 in equipment aren’t speaking publicly about the Thanksgiving weekend theft, but residents of the quiet South Kona neighborhood say the heist prompted them to become more vigilant safeguarding their own properties.

Benjamin Cariaga III — a beekeeper for Big Island Bees, a farm just up Napoopoo Road from Kona Queen Hawaii Farm, which was robbed sometime between Nov. 22 and 23 — said the theft is out of character for the agricultural area.

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“Not up here, no, we never did” worry about being broken into, Cariaga said Wednesday. “But now we’re reconsidering with what just happened. Like with the trucks and stuff, we just leave the keys in the truck.”

That’s something they’ll no longer do, he added.

A police report states an unknown suspect or suspects entered the Kona Queen Hawaii Farm property, removed 18 vehicle keys and took two white 2016 Dodge Ram 5500 flat-bed trucks with license plate numbers 823HDZ and 824HDZ.

Also reportedly taken were four Stihl weedwackers, three Stihl chainsaws, more than 200 gallons of diesel fuel and hand tools.

The items taken are valued at more than $150,000.

Representatives of Kona Queen Hawaii Farm declined Wednesday to talk about the incident. The farm’s website says it’s the world’s leading producer of quality queen bees.

Cariaga said a family member works on the farm that was robbed, which has more equipment and employees than the operation for which he works. He said it wasn’t uncommon to see trucks coming and going from the property.

“They got so much equipment, workers, a lot of people in and out,” he said. “She’s, like, pulling her hair out over this whole thing.”

He added some people in the beekeeping community he knows are keeping an eye out for the new, white trucks that were stolen. They received one tip already from a bee operation slightly outside the area.

“We went up there,” he said, although it didn’t result in recovered goods.

Witold Markiecz, who operates the Luana Inn retreat nearby, also was surprised by news of the theft. He called the neighborhood quiet and said he would be more vigilant when he leaves his property, something he hadn’t done before. He said the theft seemed organized.

“I never locked the gate,” he said. “That will be changing.”

While ag thefts might be uncommon in the Napoopoo Road area, they’re not unheard of.

Brian Lee Smith, 49, of Honaunau, faces second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder charges, among others, stemming from a June 23 incident that resulted in the fatal shooting of Thomas Ballesteros Jr. on Painted Church Road in Honaunau. The scene is about 2.5 miles from the scene of the theft. Some witnesses at the time told West Hawaii Today that the altercation started because of the theft of mangoes.

Smith’s trial is set for Jan. 8, 2019.

In addition, criminals who engage in ag theft are notoriously hard to catch and prosecute. Hawaii County hired a full-time ag theft investigator in 2017, a program that legislation introduced during the last session of the state Legislature attempted to expand. That legislation, however, died near the finish line.

The farm theft is currently under investigation. Anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to call police at 935-3311.

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“There’s a lot of aloha around here,” said Chad Yoshioka, another beekeeper for the nearby Big Island Bees. “I can’t believe that happened.”

Email Tom Hasslinger at thasslinger@westhawaiitoday.com.