MAUNAKEA — The Hawaii Police Department commander in charge of the stepped-up traffic enforcement on Daniel K. Inouye Highway near Maunakea Access Road said authorities “probably should’ve started it a lot sooner.”
Maj. Samuel Jelsma noted two traffic collisions, one on July 23 involving a reportedly stolen van. The alleged driver of the van sideswiped a pickup truck, and police say the incident ended up with the arrests of the van’s occupants, who had fled into a lava field.
Jelsma said that collision was unrelated to the ongoing protests of the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea that started July 15. Those demonstrations, which so far have been peaceful, have brought thousands to the site where the highway and the access road intersect.
“However, had that van continued in its path of travel, it would have passed through the area where protesters had gathered, creating a safety concern,” Jelsma said Thursday.
The other wreck, according to Jelsma, occurred on Aug. 10 near the 22-mile marker of the highway. He said one of the crossing guards hired to assist pedestrians cross the highway at a temporary traffic light placed near the protest area was driving to work, “likely at a high rate of speed,” when his vehicle ran off the highway, overturned several times and ejected the man, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt.
The driver, who was alone in the vehicle, was seriously injured, Jelsma said.
The state Department of Transportation has erected “no parking” signs on the highway near the access road intersection, and police said in a Thursday statement that since Aug. 15, officers have issued 610 traffic and other citations and arrested seven individuals, charging them collectively with 13 offenses.
The 610 citations were categorized as follows: speeding, 167; seat belts, 41; child restraints, six; cellphones, electronic devices, 15; excessive window/windshield tint, nine; driving without a license, 17; driving without insurance, 23; unsafe vehicle, 87; other moving violations, 43; no license plates, 24; regulatory violations, 176; parking violations, two.
The arrests of the seven individuals resulted in the following charges: DUI, three; excessive speeding, one; refusal to show identification, one; resisting order to stop vehicle, one; driving without a license, two; driving without insurance, two; and contempt of court, three.
Lakea Trask, one of the protesters, who call themselves kia‘i or “protectors” Maunakea, which they consider sacred, reiterated Thursday his belief the beefed-up enforcement is aimed at shutting down the protests.
“That whole narrative that they’re not attacking us and not going after us, that is definitely false. That’s a media talking point for them,” Trask said. “Because we have confirmation from multiple sources that they are, in fact, targeting us.
“… I guess this is a way for the state to recoup its costs, attack Hawaiians at their sacred site and par for the course for the state of dysfunction,” referring to the more than $4 million in expenses the county and state have incurred so far for law enforcement presence related to the protests.
Trask said he doesn’t know what percentage of those cited were demonstrators.
“I would say most of the speeding tickets were people just coming through, regular commuters or people not knowing what was going on on the mountain,” he said. “That’s been our experience, a lot of people flying in and not realizing they have to slow down with those barricades and lights and certain features that are there now.
“A lot of the high-profile ones, the car accident, the car wrecks, the stolen car, those were not kia‘i for sure. In those cases, kia‘i were assisting the officers and some cases, they were the ones making citizen’s arrests and apprehended suspects. A lot of that hasn’t hit the news, and I guess now some of those details will start getting revealed. But for the most part, I would say most of those infractions are definitely kia‘i, because they’re the ones that are being targeted and the ones that police are, in fact, monitoring. We have confirmation from the police themselves as well as from some who monitor the (police radio).”
Trask earlier told the Tribune-Herald officers informed demonstrators the enforcement project was ordered by Mayor Harry Kim, who was tasked by Gov. David Ige to negotiate with the protesters.
Jelsma disputed the claim, but said Kim “was aware of it.”
“This is something that came from the unified command,” Jelsma said. “It was something that needed to be addressed, so we have been addressing it. He was informed of the stepped-up enforcement plan, though.”
Jelsma said the unified command consists of himself, representing the Hawaii Police Department, and representatives of the state Sheriffs Division, Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, the state Narcotics Enforcement Division, and Department of the Attorney General.
In addition to the traffic crashes, Jelsma said authorities have received “pressure (from) people saying there’s protesters, but no police presence out there.”
“There’s a lot of complaints from the public about wanting a police presence out there. So if we’re going to have a police presence, we’ll have it, but we’re going to be doing what police do,” he said.
The state Supreme Court ruled last October TMT’s Conservation District Use permit for construction of the $1.4 billion telescope is legal. Construction was scheduled to begin last month, and 38 demonstrators, mostly kupuna or elders, were arrested July 17 for obstructing Maunakea Access Road. Nine of those individuals have court dates today in Hilo.
Asked why arrests related to the continued blockade were curtailed after the initial wave of citations, Jelsma replied, “That is a decision that is at higher levels, elected official levels, to decide that.”
“I can tell you, right now, that for us, as county police, to clear that road and to maintain that passage for the convoys to get up the mountain, with the amount of personnel involved with the protest movement, that is not feasible at this time. We would need outside support to accomplish that mission,” he said.
“I’ve always been strong on traffic enforcement. We’re up there, (and) this is a way for impacting and creating a safer situation for the motoring public and for the protesters, as well. When you’ve got traffic speeding through there, you got drunk drivers driving through there, by us going up there and doing heavy traffic enforcement, we’re actually creating safer roadways.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.