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Missing Hawaii girl’s parents withdrew her from school

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — The adoptive parents of a missing 6-year-old Hawaii girl pulled her out of school to home-school her, the state Department of Education said.

Isabella Kalua attended kindergarten at Waimanalo Elementary last school year via distance learning, said Nanea Kalani, a spokeswoman for the education department. In June, her adoptive parents filed paperwork with the school to withdraw the child to home-school her, Kalani said.

The search for Kalua entered the fourth day Thursday. She was last seen sleeping at home in Waimanalo, on the east side of the island of Oahu, Sunday night, Honolulu police said.

Sonny Kalua told The Associated Press Thursday that he and Lehua Kalua adopted the girl in January. “We’re instructed by the detectives from day one that we’re not supposed to talk to reporters,” he said.

Interim Chief Rade Vanic told the Honolulu Police Commission Wednesday there’s not sufficient evidence to show she was abducted.

Police have interviewed numerous people, but there are acquaintances and family members “who have yet to come forward to be interviewed,” Lt. Deena Thoemmes, of the Criminal Investigation Division, said in a statement Thursday.

“We hope that this will change in the near future as the investigation and search for Isabella continues,” she said. “At this time, foul play has not been ruled out.”

Police described the brown-eyed, brown-haired girl as white and mixed race. Police believe she would have been wearing a black hoodie, black leggings, colorful socks and Nike slides with pink bottoms.

Volunteers from across the island, along with city, state, federal and military agencies, have been helping with the search.

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Hawaii-based soldier sentenced to 62 years for killing wife

HONOLULU (AP) — A military judge sentenced a Hawaii-based soldier to 62 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to premeditated murder for brutally beating and stabbing his wife.

The Army’s prosecutor sought the full 65-year term for 24-year-old Spc. Raul Hernandez Perez, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday. The plea agreement called for a sentence of between 50 and 65 years.

Hernandez Perez admitted he bashed his wife, Selena Roth, on the head four times with a baseball bat as she slept in her home on the Schofield Barracks base and then stabbed her in the back four times to make sure she was dead.

Roth, 25, was an Army veteran and mother of a daughter who was then 1.

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Hawaii-based soldier admits to beating, stabbing his wife

HONOLULU (AP) — A Hawaii-based soldier has admitted to beating his wife with a baseball bat while she lay face down on the bed as she slept, and then stabbing her in the back the morning after their first anniversary.

Army Spc. Raul Hernandez Perez changed his plea Monday in the death of Selena Roth, 25, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

In exchange for pleading guilty to premeditated murder and disobeying a no-contact order, he was expected to be sentenced Tuesday to 50 to 65 years in prison following the continuation of victim impact statements in a military courtroom at Wheeler Army Airfield.

He had initially pleaded not guilty in June.

Hernandez Perez, 24, is a signals intelligence analyst assigned to the 500th Military Intelligence Brigade.

Army prosecutors said the couple were going through a divorce initiated by Hernandez Perez, who wanted to get back together with a high school sweetheart in Florida.

Military prosecutors said Hernandez Perez took out a $100,000 life insurance policy on his wife on Dec. 15.

Early in the morning on Jan. 10, Hernandez Perez searched online for how many swings it took to kill someone with a bat.

He acknowledged in court that he retrieved a baseball bat from the garage and bashed her on the head four times as she lay face down.

When he saw her chest was still rising and falling, he said he got a kitchen knife and plunged it in her back four times.

Her body was found on Jan. 13 stuffed in an outdoor trash bin which had been moved just inside Roth’s house on Schofield Barracks.

Nearly a dozen of Roth’s family members flew to Hawaii for the hearing. They spoke of her love for her 2-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, her concern and love for stray animals and the strain her death has caused.

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Misspelling of Moderna leads to tourist’s arrest in Hawaii

HONOLULU (AP) — A 24-year-old Illinois woman submitted a fake COVID-19 vaccination card to visit Hawaii with a glaring spelling error that led to her arrest: Moderna was spelled ìMaderna,” according to court documents.

In order to bypass Hawaii’s 10-day traveler quarantine, she uploaded a vaccination card to the state’s Safe Travels program and arrived in Honolulu Aug. 23 on a Southwest Airlines flight, the documents said.

ìAirport screeners found suspicious errors … such as Moderna was spelled wrong and that her home was in Illinois but her shot was taken at Delaware,” Wilson Lau, a special agent with the Hawaii attorney general’s investigation division, wrote in an email to a Delaware official who confirmed there was no vaccination record for the woman under her name and birth date.

The email is included in documents filed in court. She was charged with two misdemeanor counts of violating Hawaii’s emergency rules to control the spread of COVID-19. She had been in custody on $2,000 bail until a judge released her at a hearing Wednesday and scheduled another hearing in three weeks, according the public defender’s office.

State Public Defender James Tabe, whose office represented her at hearings this week, declined to comment on her case, noting it’s not clear if she’ll hire her own attorney or apply to have a public defender represent her.

The voicemail at a number listed for her in court documents was full Wednesday. She didn’t immediately respond to a text message from The Associated Press.

In addition to the suspicious card, authorities determined that the travel information she provided listed she would be staying at a Waikiki Holiday Inn but didn’t include a reservation number and return flight information, court documents said.

An assistant manager at the hotel confirmed to Lau that she didn’t have a reservation. Lau said in the court document that he tried to call the number she listed, but her voicemail was full. He said he emailed her and didn’t get a response.

Lau said he searched for her on Facebook and found a photo showing a ìdistinctive tattoo on her left hip area.”

The tattoo helped authorities find her at a Southwest Airlines counter when she was trying to leave Honolulu on Aug. 28, the court document said. She showed her ID and vaccination card to Lau, who informed her she was being arrested for falsifying vaccination documents.

Other visitors to Hawaii have been arrested for fake vaccination cards, including a father and son from California, who appeared in court via Zoom Wednesday and waived their rights to a jury trial.

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Honolulu to require vaccine or negative test at restaurants

By AUDREY McAVOY

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Seeking to beat back a COVID-19 surge, Honolulu will soon require patrons of restaurants, bars, museums, theaters and other establishments to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for the disease, the city’s mayor said Monday.

The move comes after the highly contagious delta variant caused a surge of infections across the state. Before the Fourth of July, Hawaii had a seven-day average of 46 daily cases. On Monday, that figure hit 874.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi said the program called “Safe Access Oahu” takes effect on Sept. 13. Honolulu joins other cities such as New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and the U.S. territory of Guam that have implemented similar requirements.

Children under the age of 12 will be exempt. Employees of the establishments will have to show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing, Blangiardi said. He said businesses that don’t comply could be fined or potentially shut down.

The mayor said the program was a way to control the spread of COVID-19 while avoiding a lockdown.

“This is a common sense, logical approach. We’ve been very much in favor of life going on,” Blangiardi said.

In Honolulu County, 85 percent of the eligible population 12 and older has had at least one dose of vaccine. Blangiardi said he hopes the remainder of residents will get vaccinated.

Greg Maples, the chairman of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, said his organization endorsed the new program because it needs the coronavirus to stop spreading.

“Don’t stop eating in restaurants. We need you. We need the business,” said Maples, who suggested unvaccinated people order take-out instead.

The program will remain in effect for 60 days. If the city doesn’t see an improvement, Blangiardi said it will move on to mandatory vaccinations.

Republican state Rep. Val Okimoto, the House minority leader, criticized the program, saying it was doubling down on the idea that “government knows best.”

“Common sense tells me that if you implement a policy that segregates the vaccinated with the unvaccinated, we’re inadvertently incentivizing the unvaccinated community to gather and spread COVID within their own communities,” Okimoto said.

The mayor said he’s concerned about hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, noting the remote island state had limited oxygen supplies, medical staff and beds.

“This notion of people who choose not to get vaccinated and say: ‘It’s my right under these circumstances, but if I get sick, you got to take care of me.’ I don’t understand that logic and that’s not what’s going to work,” Blangiardi said.

Earlier Monday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is also an emergency room doctor, said the state’s hospitals can handle a combined 500 COVID-19 patients and perhaps 710 if they stretch their resources to the limit. But at these levels doctors may have to begin thinking about rationing care, he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s online Spotlight interview program.

There were 418 COVID-19 patients in hospitals statewide on Monday, a number that has remained relatively steady for the last week though is one-third higher than one month ago, Green said.

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Is Kilauea volcano going to erupt again?

EXPLAINER

By AUDREY McAVOY

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Scientists say the immediate potential for an eruption at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has declined after earthquakes and ground swelling subsided in the 24 hours leading up to Thursday morning. Earlier in the week, the quakes and changes to the ground surface prompted scientists to say the mountain could once again disgorge lava.

Here’s an overview of the latest developments at Kilauea:

WHAT ACTIVITY DID SCIENTISTS SEE?

Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on Monday noticed a surge of earthquakes and the ground swelling at the southern part of the crater at Kilauea’s summit. There are indications magma is shifting about a half-mile to a mile below the surface.

It’s not uncommon for Kilauea to have earthquakes, which could indicate rocks are moving. It’s also not unusual for the ground to swell as the heat from the sun and saturation from rain can cause the ground to expand and contract.

However, earthquakes and ground swelling at the same time indicated magma was on the move.

ìWe get a lot of earthquakes here, and we get a lot of deformation here. But the combination of the two makes us much more aware,” said Jefferson Chang, a geophysicist at the observatory, which is part of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Instruments detected hundreds of earthquakes from Monday through Wednesday, some striking as often as 25 times an hour. The strongest measured magnitude 3, with most coming in between magnitude 1 and 2 At these levels, the quakes are generally too small for people to notice. Chang said there haven’t been any reports of people feeling them.

WHERE DID THE ACTIVITY HAPPEN?

It occurred at the summit of Kilauea volcano, an uninhabited area within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. This is about 200 miles southeast of Honolulu, which is on a different island called Oahu.

The site is miles from the nearest town. The park has closed off this part of the summit to the public since 2008.

Ben Hayes, the park’s interpretation and education program manager, said the park was preparing for a potential eruption, but he said there’s nothing to be alarmed about. ìIt’s a natural process at one of the world’s most active volcanoes,î he said.

HAS THIS HAPPENED BEFORE?

Chang said scientists observed activity in the same part of the summit in 2015. That episode lasted three days, and the volcano didn’t erupt. Just like this time, the ground swelled. One difference is that there were more earthquakes then.

The last time Kilauea erupted at the southern part of its caldera or crater was in 1974.

WHAT’S THE CURRENT SITUATION?

The earthquake swarm stopped about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. The ground swelling has also subsided.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO CHANGE THE ALERT LEVEL?

The observatory lowered Kilauea’s volcano alert level back down to to advisory from watch on Thursday, after the earthquakes and ground swelling had subsided for 24 hours.

The new alert level means volcanic activity has decreased significantly, but scientists will continue to monitor Kilauea for more increases.

On Tuesday, the observatory had raised the alert level to watch, meaning Kilauea was showing heighted unrest with increased potential to erupt.

HOW OFTEN HAS KILAUEA ERUPTED BEFORE?

Hawaiian chants and stories tell the stories of countless eruptions. In Hawaiian tradition, Kilauea is home to the volcano goddess Pele.

Kilauea has erupted 34 times since 1952. From 1983 to 2018, it erupted almost continuously, in some cases sending streams of lava that covered farms and homes. At the end of this decades-long eruption, Kilauea spewed lava from vents in a residential neighborhood on its eastern flank and destroyed more than 700 homes.

In December, Kilauea erupted at the crater, creating a lake with enough lava to fill 10 Hoover dams. That eruption ended in May.

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Investigation prompts some access changes for Big Island bus

KAILUA-KONA (AP) — Prompted by a U.S. investigation, Big Island officials have agreed to make changes to the county’s bus system to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The investigation stemmed from a complaint from a rider that wheelchair lifts weren’t working on Hele-On buses, and other ADA compliance issues.

The county “frequently deployed buses with chronically inoperable lifts,” said an agreement signed this week by the county and Justice Department.

The agreement to change county policy and procedures forestalls a civil lawsuit, West Hawaii Today reported Wednesday.

The county agreed to immediately report inoperable lifts and take the vehicles out of service until the lifts are repaired.

Other changes include having the bus driver announce any stop on request of a rider with a disability, putting bus stops at locations that are more accessible and maintaining a complaint log.

“They did a full investigation and at the end of the day they commended our commitment to changing things even before they finished,” said Deputy Corporation Counsel Malia Hall. “We initiated changes early and often and it led to an amicable settlement.”

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Spain judge nixes backup site for disputed Hawaii telescope

By ARITZ PARRA

The Associated Press

MADRID — A Spanish judge in a decision cheered by environmentalists has put a halt to backup plans for the construction of a giant telescope in the Canary Islands — eliminating at least for now the primary alternative location to the preferred spot in Hawaii, where there have been protests against the telescope.

Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, on Hawaii’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, has been stalled by opponents who say the project will desecrate land held sacred to some Native Hawaiians.

Telescope officials had selected the alternate location near an existing scientific research facility on the highest mountain of La Palma, one of the Spanish islands off the western African coast, in the Atlantic Ocean.

But an administrative court in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the Spanish archipelago, ruled last month that the 2017 concession by local authorities of public land for the tentative project was invalid. The ruling was dated on July 29, but only became public this week after local media reported about the decision.

In the ruling obtained by The Associated Press, Judge Roi Lopez Encinas wrote that the telescope land allocation was subject to an agreement between the Canary Astrophysics Institute, or IAC, and the telescope’s promoter, the TMT International Observatory (TIO) consortium.

But the judge ruled that the agreement was not valid because TIO had not expressed an intention to build on the La Palma site instead of at the Hawaii site.

The judge also sided with the plaintiff, the environmental group Ben Magec-Ecologistas en Accion, in rejecting arguments by TIO’s legal team and the island’s government that the land concession was covered by an international treaty on scientific research.

An official for the Canary Islands High Court said questions about the ruling could not be answered because other court officials in a position to answer the questions were on vacation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to be named in media reports.

The island’s local elected government chief, Mariano Zapata, said it was “sad” that advocacy groups “are so occupied by administrative matters instead of environmental issues.”

“I wish we were all in the same boat with the intent of creating jobs in the La Palma island so it can keep being an international reference on scientific research,” Zapata said. His government estimated last year that the telescope would generate 500 permanent jobs and at least 400 million euros ($470 million) in investment.

Scott Ishikawa, a spokesperson for the consortium hoping to build the telescope, said that the consortium plans to appeal the ruling.

“While we respect the court’s ruling in La Palma, we will pursue the legal process to retain La Palma as our alternative site. Hawaii remains our preferred location for TMT, and we have renewed our efforts to better connect with the Hawaii community in a meaningful and appropriate way,” he said in an email to The Associated Press.

Pablo Batista, a spokesman of the Ben Magec-Ecologistas en AcciÛn group, hailed the decision as a big setback for what he called a “fraudulent” project that he said made “fake promises” of new jobs for the island.

“The whole idea of offering the island as a back-up was nothing else but as a strategy to put pressure on the Hawaii plans,” Batista said.

In a statement, the group also said that “the five years that the TIO consortium has lost on La Palma should make it reflect on the arrogant and disrespectful strategy that they have carried out both in Hawaii and in the Canary Islands, emboldened by institutional support and despising the arguments of the opposition to the TMT.”

The group’s concerns echo some of the concerns expressed by those fighting the telescope in Hawaii, said Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the leaders seeking to keep the project off Mauna Kea.

“I’m glad that they challenged it, because like here, the challenge helps bring awareness to TMT’s not only lack of following the process, but caring for the environment and Hawaiians’ sacred site,” she said.

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Honolulu prosecutor won’t appeal ruling sparing police

By AUDREY McAVOY

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Honolulu’s prosecutor on Monday said his office will not appeal a judge’s decision to reject murder and attempted murder charges filed against three police officers in the fatal shooting of a teenager.

Steve Alm defended his office’s decision to pursue charges against the officers, saying its investigation found the officers’ use of deadly force wasn’t justified. He said the officers hadn’t followed the Honolulu Police Department’s use of force policy and that they didn’t use self-defense.

“Now the court system has spoken. I understand that. I accept that the prosecution of those three officers by this office is over,” Alm said at a news conference.

His office had charged Geoffrey Thom with murder for the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap on April 5. Prosecutors charged Zackary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces with attempted murder for also opening fire.

The charges came after prosecutors took their case to a grand jury but failed to win an indictment there.

Alm said he knew the decision to bring charges against the officers would not be popular with some in the community, but he said prosecutors have a job to do.

“We do an objective investigation of the facts. And if laws are broken, that person or persons is held accountable. No one is above the law and nobody should be given a pass on being held accountable,” he said.

District Court Judge William Domingo ruled against the charges on Wednesday after listening to several days of preliminary hearing testimony to determine whether the officers should be tried. He also reviewed footage from video cameras worn by several police officers.

Domingo found the officers were in danger when they approached the car Sykap was driving after he lead police on a high-speed chase up to 80 mph on highways and city streets.

Domingo said Sykap’s car started to move and could have hit the officers. The judge said the officers were standing in a zone of danger near Sykap’s car, a white Honda that had been reported stolen a few days prior. The police had issued an “all points bulletin” warning officers about the car, which had been involved in a purse snatching, burglary and armed robbery in the days after it was stolen.

Alm, echoing arguments made by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Van Marter, said it didn’t matter whether Sykap had committed any crimes in the past or whether he might do so in the future.

“Rather, the question is whether Mr. Sykap’s actions at the time posed any immediate threat. At issue, then, is whether the officer’s use of deadly force at the time they fired was justified based on self defense or defense of others,” Alm said.

Alm said his office would continue to conduct independent reviews of shootings by Honolulu police officers.

Alm said the Sykap case demonstrated the importance of such independent investigations. He related how preliminary hearing testimony revealed that after the shooting, the officers gathered in the same room to review body-worn camera footage and write their reports about the incident.

“That procedure — getting together — would never be allowed in other cases involving suspects in any other crime,” Alm said.

He said this process, along with the inconsistencies between these officer accounts and the body camera footage, contributed to his office filing charges.

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Honolulu hospital fills up amid COVID-19 surge

HONOLULU — A hospital serving a Honolulu suburb on Friday has filled up as the community faces a surge of COVID-19 cases.

All 104 beds at The Queen’s Medical Center – West Oahu are full, said Jason Chang, the CEO of The Queen’s Health Systems.

The Ewa Beach hospital has sent some patients to its sibling facility in downtown Honolulu. It’s also asked staff from other parts of the Queen’s system to come help.

The city has set up a triage tent outside the hospital that has 25 cots. The hospital may also add beds in hallways and other makeshift areas but not all patients will get rooms.

Chang said the hospital had 63 patients in its emergency room at one time, which is a crisis given the hospital only has 24 ER beds. Twenty-six of those in the ER were there with possible COVID-19 infections.

“Between all the normal emergencies and the COVID cases, it’s overwhelming our system,” Chang said at a news conference. “And so please, get vaccinated. That’s the first thing we’re asking everyone to do. And the second thing is, please don’t socialize.”

Chang said the ER will still treat those complaining of chest pains or other serious conditions but he said people with problems like a sprained ankle would be given low priority and would have to wait. He urged those with mild illnesses to visit an urgent care center.

Staff members are working extra shifts and are tired and stressed. He said the Queen’s system expected to get 74 nurses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday.

“But that’s still not until Monday. We still have to get through the weekend,” he said.

On Friday, Hawaii reported a seven-day average of 661 new daily cases statewide. That’s down from a peak of 717 earlier in the week but sharply higher than 128 one month ago.