Hitchhiker pleads not guilty in frightening incident at Hilo drive-thru


A Puna man pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of kidnapping and armed robbery following a harrowing incident last week at a Hilo fast-food restaurant.

Lawrence Kekoa Botelho, 33, of Pahoa was charged Saturday with first-degree robbery, first-degree terroristic threatening, unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle, kidnapping, and third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug.


According to police, the incident took place shortly before midnight on Wednesday, Oct. 20.

South Hilo Patrol officers responded to the Puainako Town Center in Hilo to a report of a stolen vehicle.

The 34-year-old victim reported to police that while driving into Hilo, he picked up a hitchhiker — later identified as Botelho — on the side of the roadway in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

Upon arriving in Hilo, the victim drove to a fast-food restaurant drive-thru. While they were waiting in line, the hitchhiker began acting erratically, yelling at the victim and verbally threatening to kill him, according to police.

The suspect was then reportedly observed to have a pistol and two knives in his hands. Fearing for his life, the victim exited the driver seat of his vehicle and ran for safety, police said. The suspect then allegedly stole the victim’s vehicle.

On Thursday, Oct. 21, police located the victim’s vehicle unattended in the Panaewa area.

On Friday, Oct. 22, Puna patrol officers responded to a convenience store in Orchidland after it was reported that Botelho was in the area. That’s where he was subsequently located and arrested.

The robbery and kidnapping charges are both Class A felonies carrying a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison. Because he is a repeat offender, Botelho faces a mandatory prison term if he is convicted of any of the felony offenses save the drug offence.

Botelho has had a long criminal history on and off the island.

He was convicted of an unspecified felony in San Antonio, Texas, in 2009, and in 2014 was charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in that same city.

In January 2020, he was charged with armed robbery after he lured a Canadian couple to a home in Nanawale Estates after offering to provide accommodations to the two before robbing them at knifepoint.

During the incident, he stole the woman’s phone, camera and $200 in cash, before threatening them with a gun if they didn’t leave.

Botelho was convicted of armed robbery in the 2020 case and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and four years of probation. However, he was allowed early release into a residential substance abuse treatment program.

But in August, Botelho was charged again with criminal property damage and disorderly conduct, leading to the revocation of his probation, for which he also was arrested last week.


At an initial appearance Monday in Hilo District Court, Botelho was denied release pending $132,000 bail. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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