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Hawaii school reaches settlement with family of drowning victim

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — The family of a 5-year-old boy who drowned during a kayaking excursion has reached a $7.2 milliom settlement in a lawsuit against the Hawaii private school that operated the spring break program.

In announcing the amount Monday, lawyers for the family said it’s the largest publicly disclosed settlement in Hawaii for the death of a child.

Alaric Chiu’s parents filed the lawsuit against Mid-Pacific Institute and its employees, alleging reckless and grossly negligent conduct caused the boy’s death.

The kindergartner was participating in the school’s spring break day camp when he drowned off Kaaawa on Oahu in 2019.

Camp counselor Maria Davis, 63, also drowned when the kayak carrying four people capsized.

Two other students escaped injury by clinging to the boat, which was designed for two people and was not equipped with life vests, according to the lawsuit.

Kayaking wasn’t listed in the program’s itinerary and was meant to be a surprise for the students, the lawsuit said.

Alaric didn’t know how to swim, it said.

“I’m hoping Alaric’s death won’t be in vain,” said his father, Lucius Chiu. “I really do hope schools, not just Hawaii but everywhere, will be more careful.”

Mid-Pacific Institute has made changes over the past two years, including a new director of the extended learning program and enhanced water-based health and safety protocols, said the school’s president, Paul Turnbull.

“This tragedy was truly heartbreaking,” Turnbull said. “We are hopeful this settlement and additional school safety protocols will help all in our community as they process these events, and move forward together.”

The boy’s parents also want the settlement to bring attention to a state law requiring children younger than 13 to wear a life vest or portable flotation device on any watercraft, their lawyers said.

“Sadly, the law has historically undervalued claims by children, because the law places a lot of weight on ëeconomic’ losses like ëearning history,’ which do not ordinarily exist for a child,” said James Bickerton, one of the family’s lawyers. “However, the Chius rejected any lower figure and only accepted this sum because it was large enough to send a strong message to other educational institutions and businesses that they must do what is necessary to ensure children’s safety, or the consequences will be severe.”

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Honolulu seeks public input to improve Ala Wai Boulevard

HONOLULU (AP) — Honolulu is seeking public input for a project to improve the safety, especially for bicyclists and pedestrians, along Ala Wai Boulevard, a three-lane thoroughfare that runs through Waikiki.

An administrator for the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services, Renee Espiau, said Tuesday an upcoming department report will identify five intersections with high rates of pedestrian injuries.

There were 38 recorded bicycle and pedestrian injuries on the boulevard from 2012 to 2016, Espiau said.

Espiau said some potential additions could include new curb extensions, pedestrian crossings, sidewalk enhancements, shared-use paths, protected bikeways, lighting improvements or speed reduction measures.

Since last month, more than 100 public comments have appeared on the department’s website and ìthe vast majority comment(ed) on pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements needed,î Espiau said.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that the densest public comment cluster on the department’s website was regarding the intersection of Ala Wai Boulevard and McCully Bridge.

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Honolulu hotel standoff ends when man kills self

HONOLULU (AP) — A standoff between Honolulu police and an armed man who fired shots through the door of his room at a luxury resort ended when the man was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, local media reported Sunday.

A SWAT team entered the fourth-floor room at The Kahala Hotel & Resort about 3:30 a.m. Sunday and found the man dead, local television stations and a newspaper reported, citing unnamed police officials. All reported police didn’t release further information, including the man’s name.

Messages sent to spokespersons for the Honolulu Police Department and the Honolulu mayor’s office seeking confirmation and further details were not immediately returned Sunday to The Associated Press.

Shots were fired at around 6 p.m., according to police. Hotel security staff went up to the room where the man was located and knocked on the door. He then fired through the door multiple times, police said.

No one outside the door was hurt, Honolulu police Capt. Brian Lynch told news outlets. The luxury resort said in a statement that hotel security and law enforcement evacuated the area around the room.

“Everybody is accounted for,” Lynch said.

Authorities have not released any details about the events leading up to the standoff.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy Pacific Submarine Force told news outlets the man was one of its sailors. He was not immediately identified but the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and KITV said he was 40 years old.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a shipmate,” U.S. Navy Commander Cindy Fields said in the statement. “This is a tragic loss to our force and the Navy family.”

Photos and videos shared by local media showed about 100 people locked down in the hotel’s ballroom. Displaced guests were provided with food, blankets and pillows. Hours after the standoff began, guests sheltering in place were allowed to leave.

Images from outside the resort showed a large police presence, including a SWAT team.

Kahala resident Yevgeniy Lendel told Hawaii News Now he was walking in the area when officers rushed to the scene.

“The cops told everyone to run and shelter,” he told the TV station. “We ran away from the hotel.”

The standoff occurred during what had seemed to be a quiet evening at the resort. Visitors and locals were eating at beachside restaurants and taking in the sights.

Honolulu resident Rex Jakobovits said he was strolling on the beach when he was told by police to get into the hotel’s ballroom. He told Hawaii News Now that when he got inside, people were frightened. Some were crying.

However, Jakobovits said the mood eventually calmed after officers were posted outside the doors.

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Tourist charged with manslaughter in pal’s Hawaii death

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — There is probable cause to charge a Pittsburgh tourist with manslaughter in the strangulation death of the college buddy he was vacationing with in Hawaii, a judge ruled Thursday.

Benjamin Fleming was arrested last month after his first night out on the Hawaii Island with his two college friends ended in a deadly fight.

Alexander Germany-Wald of Montclair, N.J., testified at a preliminary hearing for Fleming that their friend, Abhishek Gupta, also of Pittsburgh, got “psychotically” drunk.

Germany-Wald said he walked Gupta back to their Kailua-Kona Airbnb after Gupta was asked to leave a bar. Fleming stayed behind.

Germany-Wald said he locked himself in a bedroom to seclude himself from Gupta, who was angry about having to go back to the condo.

At one point, the two of them got into a fistfight, with Gupta on top of Germany-Wald and punching him, Germany-Wald testified at the hearing, which began Wednesday: “I didn’t know if he would stop.”

Fleming returned to the condo and “came to my aid and restrained Mr. Gupta,” Germany-Wald said, adding that he didn’t see what kind of hold Fleming, who is in the Army, used to restrain Gupta.

They heard Gupta snoring but later realized he wasn’t breathing, Alexander-Wald said, and Fleming called 911.

An autopsy determined Gupta had been strangled.

The three men were close friends since college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Germany-Wald said.

Fleming’s attorney asked the judge to release him pending trial. Fleming has two job offers and a residence available to him on the Hawaii Island, said his attorney, Christopher Eggert.

Per diem Judge Cynthia Tai denied the request and kept his bail at $250,000.

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Honolulu mayor wants eased coronavirus restrictions despite cases uptick

HONOLULU (AP) — Honolulu’s mayor wants to change Oahu’s coronavirus guidelines to allow for less restrictions despite a growing number of COVID-19 cases on the island.

Each county in Hawaii sets forth guidelines for when to impose certain restrictions based on positive case counts. Under the current scheme on Oahu, Hawaii’s most populated island, tighter restrictions should be triggered by a seven-day average of 50 to 100 cases.

The island has had an average of more than 50 cases per day for the past week, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

That should trigger a return to tighter restrictions, but Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Monday he was “dead set” against rolling back.

“We feel very confident on where we are in regards to vaccinations, our hospitalizations,” said Blangiardi.

Oahu moved into tier three of the county’s four-tier system in late February after being in the more restrictive tier two since October.

Blangiardi sent a request to Gov. David Ige asking that criteria for tier three be increased to a seven-day average case count of 50 to 100, the current guideline for tighter restrictions under tier two.

“If we can just stay in the range that we’re at, if we continue to vaccinate like this, we’re going to pull through,” Blangiardi said. “We’re in a very different set of circumstances at this time now than we were just 90 days ago.”

Tier three allows for social gatherings of up to 10 people, restaurants to seat up to 10 per table — an increase from five in tier two — and for gyms to operate at 50 percent capacity instead of 25 percent.

Blangiardi also made changes to tier three in March to allow bars to reopen and operate until midnight and to allow outdoor youth sports to resume.

He also made changes to allow outdoor weddings with up to 100 people as long as face masks are worn, temperatures checked and dancers stay socially distanced.

The decision about whether or not to allow the change is up to the governor.

Average daily cases for Oahu have increased by 42 percent over two weeks.

It is the wrong time to ease restrictions, said Tim Brown, an infectious-disease modeler and senior fellow at the East-West Center.

“I’m concerned because we are continuing to see this community spread,” Brown said. “Vaccine-wise, we’re still far from where I’d like to be.”

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Kauai visitors get discount with 2nd virus test

HONOLULU (AP) — Visitors to the Hawaiian island of Kauai will receive a discount card for local businesses if they voluntarily take a coronavirus test three days after arriving in addition to their required test before travel.

The Kokua Kauai Card program will begin on Monday, when the island reenters the Safe Travels Program, which allows people to avoid quarantining if they can show a negative pre-travel coronavirus test, Hawaii Public Radio reported.

The card will feature a QR code that links to a site with discounts and incentives offered by local Kauai businesses. About 60 Kauai businesses, hotels and restaurants are participating in the program.

“We wanted an additional layer of security in addition to what Safe Travels provides,” said Mark Perriello, the executive director of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce.

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Hawaii study offers design changes to fight climate change

HONOLULU (AP) — A new study from the University of Hawaii’s School of Architecture has offered detailed short- and long-term design alterations that could help the state combat the effects of climate change.

Scientists have warned that Hawaii could face a rise of up to 3 feet in sea level over the next few decades, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

The effects of climate change in Honolulu in particular could force as many as 13,300 people from their homes and cause an estimated $13 billion in economic losses, the outlet reported.

“When you read sea-level rise reports, it’s scary,” said Judith Stilgenbauer, the principal investigator of the project and professor of landscape architecture at the university’s School of Architecture. “But there’s a real opportunity here to get an early start on planning for the inevitable.”

The study proposes, for instance, that the state make room for wetlands in order to increase its capacity to withstand flooding and improve overall water quality.

Some specific suggestions include converting the Ala Wai Golf Course into wetlands and areas for wetland farming; creating a “South Shore Promenade” which would connect a network of existing and proposed shoreline green spaces; and creating an elevated Ala Wai Boulevard that prioritizes pedestrians.

The boulevard and the makai bank of the Ala Wai Canal could then be converted into “a multi-purpose Waikiki super dike,” the outlet said.

The report added that an elevated promenade would allow for unhindered water flow and protect wetland habitats from being disturbed.

Stilgenbauer said the various proposals in the report are “speculative, nature-based living shoreline design solutions” that embrace coastal flooding rather than try to prevent it from happening.

Chip Fletcher, associate dean and professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, praised the the report for proposing changes that could fight back against sea level rises.

“It’s really good stuff,” Fletcher said. “The fact-based land-use analysis, combined with the creative design depicting flooded landscapes, frees the viewer’s imagination to consider a future for Hawaii in which our communities live with water rather than fighting it.”

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State / In Brief

Waialua bridge to close for repairs

HONOLULU — A bridge has closed in Waialua on Oahu after a structural inspection last week found damage to the overpass.

The closure has caused traffic increases on surrounding roadways that are expected to increase the strain on Waialua Elementary School, which is near the bridge and is preparing to transition back to full in-person instruction starting next week, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Saturday.

“The cars are backing up at the intersection of Thompson Corner,” said Manu Anana, board president of the Waialua Community Association. “There’s more traffic. It takes longer to get in and out of the area.”

Berni Paik-Apau, an office manager at the Waialua Community Association, said some people have to spend much more time dropping their kids off for school as a result of the closure.

The bridge over Kiikii Stream was deemed unsafe to cross after heavy rainfall and flooding may have caused damage to the bridge.

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101-year-old WWII veteran receives Congressional Gold Medal

HONOLULU (AP) — A 101-year-old World War II veteran from Hawaii has received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service.

James Lum on Wednesday received the highest award of national appreciation for distinguished achievement at Kuakini Health System’s Hale Pulama Mau Auditorium.

Lum is one of about 375 Chinese Americans from Hawaii who have been given the medal for their service in the war, KHON-TV reported. He is one of about 50 Chinese American recipients who are still alive.

“There are not many World War II veterans still living to share their experiences,” said Melvin Lum, one of James Lum’s three sons. “In our eyes, our dad is our hero.”

Eight of Lum’s family members attended the medal presentation. It was the first time in more than a year that James Lum was able to see so many of his family members in person because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lum was a corporal and auto mechanic in the U.S. Army. He served from December 1939 to October 1945 with the 298th Infantry, Hawaii News Now reported.

Lum received the medal as a part of the Chinese American World War II Veterans Recognition Project.

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Grievance over rail project layoffs

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s largest labor union has filed a grievance over recent layoffs by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which is building a delayed and beleaguered commuter rail line project.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association said the agency has laid off dozens of staffers and contract workers since Lori Kahikina assumed her role as interim CEO in January, Hawaii News Now reported Saturday.

The union said the authority should have provided workers with 90 days notice. It is asking for reinstatement of the laid off workers, restoral of lost wages and at least a 90-day notification for future layoffs.

Authority spokesman Joey Manahan said the rail authority has not yet reviewed the union’s grievance.