Maunakea traffic enforcement nets 78 arrests, more than 8,000 citations

  • MAJ. SAMUEL JELSMA
  • CHIEF PAUL FERREIRA

HILO — The four-month-long stepped-up traffic enforcement on Daniel K. Inouye Highway by officers assigned to the Thirty Meter Telescope blockade and encampment on Maunakea Access Road netted a 8,234 citations and 78 people arrested for 143 offenses, the Hawaii Police Department said Friday.

The enforcement effort began Aug. 15 and concluded Dec. 18.

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Police have resumed routine enforcement and presence on the highway, primarily by Traffic Enforcement Unit officers, as was the case before the protest of the planned $1.4 billion telescope on Maunakea began in July.

Protesters, who prefer to be called kia‘i or protectors of the mountain, have been critical of the stepped-up enforcement, with leaders saying the effort targeted Hawaiians.

A retired police sergeant, Juergen Canda, filed a complaint about the enforcement with the Hawaii County Police Commission, calling it “an obvious strategy of trying to shut down this movement through the use of punitive enforcement” and describing it as “illegal and unconstitutional.”

Police Chief Paul Ferreira disputed Canda’s claims before the commission on Dec. 20 and told the panel he wasn’t going to have officers assigned to the mountain just “sitting on their hands.” He added the public “should be appalled” at the number of DUI arrests and child-restraint violations on a 60 mph highway, putting the road’s users at risk.

The commission rejected Canda’s complaint.

According to Maj. Samuel Jelsma, the commander in charge of the enhanced traffic enforcement operation, a review was conducted of reported Daniel K. Inouye Highway traffic crashes during the four-month span of the project, and compared the numbers with crashes occurring on the highway over the past three years during the same time period.

In 2019, seven traffic accident reports were initiated with three involving an animal being struck on the roadway. Three vehicles ran off the roadway, and one crash required ambulance transport to a hospital after a report of pain. No crashes involved a rollover, although Jelsma told the police commission on Dec. 20 there was a rollover on Daniel K. Inouye Highway the morning after the enhanced enforcement detail had been disbanded.

“It was fortunate that the young woman driving was wearing her seat belt,” Jelsma said Friday. “I am told the vehicle rolled several times, and her belongings were strewn all around the wreckage. If she had not been wearing her seat belt, very possible that she would have been ejected, and we would be reporting on a fatality.”

In 2018, four traffic accident reports were initiated, with one involving a driver swerving to avoid an animal on the roadway. Three vehicles were involved in rollovers, which included the vehicle that swerved to avoid an animal. Two crashes required ambulance transport to a hospital.

In 2017, 12 traffic accident reports were initiated, with five involving an animal being struck on the roadway and another in which a vehicle swerved to avoid an animal. Four crashes involved a vehicle running off the road, including the vehicle that swerved to avoid an animal. One vehicle involved a rollover. Three crashes required ambulance transport to a hospital.

And in 2016, seven traffic accident reports were initiated, with one involving an animal being struck on the roadway. Two vehicles ran off the roadway, and one vehicle was involved in a rollover. One crash required ambulance transport to a hospital and another, private transport to a hospital.

Jelsma said the statistics help justify the enhanced traffic enforcement effort.

“Although some may say the number of crashes really didn’t change much from past year comparisons, what isn’t reflected in the statistics is that those numbers remained consistent despite the situation created by the protests,” Jelsma said. “We had large numbers of people drawn to the area — up to an estimated 3,000 on a weekend when interest was the highest — numerous pedestrians and campers along the shoulders of a 60 mph major highway.

“It was an effective use of resources, police were already assigned to the area specifically for the protest situation and remained in place, fully prepared to deal with whatever situation that would arise while the political process took its course.”

The 18-week tally of 8,324 citations were for: speeding, 3,878; excessive speeding, 53; seat belt violations, 523; child-restraint violations, 57; use of cellphone or electronic device while driving, 90; excessively tinted windows and/or windshields, 185; driving without a license, 269; driving without insurance, 334; unsafe vehicle, 364; other moving violations, 207; no license plates, 251; regulatory violations, 2,105; and parking violations, eight.

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The 143 arrested offenses were for: contempt of court or failure to appear, 66; revocation of probation, five; violating terms of release, one; DUI, 22; habitual DUI, one; resisting order to stop, three; reckless driving, two; excessive speeding, six; driving after license suspended or revoked, three; driving without a license, eight; driving without insurance, 10; open container of liquor in vehicle, three; promoting a dangerous drug, three; promoting a harmful drug, one; marijuana possession, one; drug paraphernalia possession, two; child-restraint violation, one; making a false statement to police, one; failure to provide identification, one; second-degree theft, two; and disorderly conduct, one.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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