Sour Poi Awards: Chronicling the Wild, Wacky and Just Plain Weird of 2017
The best of the worst of 2017.
2017—How about that year? Even before the indictments, the saga of Honolulu’s former police chief and his city prosecutor wife sounded ripped from a made-for-TV movie: charges of corruption and cronyism and a lavish lifestyle. Each year, HONOLULU chronicles the best of the worst news of the past 12 months for our Sour Poi Awards—the wild, wacky and just plain weird. This year featured election fallout, Spam crime and a killer walking away from the Hawai‘i State Hospital, which reported his escape after he’d somehow reached California. Here’s our look back at a year that did not disappoint.
Wait. Come back. We mean it. Really.
Illustrations: Chris Danger
Supporters of President Trump attempt to discourage people from traveling to Hawai‘i with a #boycotthawaii movement after state Attorney General Doug Chin and federal judges slow Trump’s attempt to ban travel from some foreign nations. Chin scoffs at the attempt to tarnish the state and many Hawai‘i residents laugh it off as the movement goes viral on social media.
Noni your business
A Puna farmer is fined by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for bulldozing a road to harvest an illicit noni orchard planted on state land that he claimed as his own. Herbert Moniz, of Herb’s Herbs and Noni Biotech International, acknowledges some mistakes in trying to farm the bitter medicinal plant. He tells state officials that “Hawaiian Kingdom people” persuaded him he had rights to the plot.
Statewide struggles with a growing homeless population prompt a variety of creative solutions. On O‘ahu, fiberglass structures have been used as temporary housing in ‘A‘ala Park and other projects. Now, folks on the west side of the Big Island are considering 20-foot-wide, 314-square-foot fiberglass “igloos” that could house four people each and could be part of a homeless village to be built across from the West Hawai‘i Civic Center.
Guess he’s not on Twitter
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano calls for President Trump to withhold federal funding from Honolulu’s long-delayed multibillion-dollar rail transit project. Cayetano makes his case in a full-page ad in The Washington Post.
No majority here
Freshly elected President Trump gets attention early in Hawai‘i, one of 20 states he did not win, when he presses for a ban to restrict foreign travel to the U.S. from several Muslim-majority nations. Hawai‘i Attorney General Chin begins a string of legal challenges, some more successful than others.
State of Mind
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions draws rebuke on social media when he disses a Hawai‘i federal judge for blocking implementation of foreign travel restrictions. The nation’s top lawyer tells a conservative radio show, “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”
Is that part of Polynesia?
Hollywood decides to film the true story of Native Hawaiian hero Ben Kanahele, who earned a Purple Heart for his encounter with a Japanese Zero pilot who crash-landed on remote Ni‘ihau following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. But the movie project becomes mired in controversy and whitewashing allegations for casting blue-eyed actor Zach McGowan as Kanahele and shooting in … Malaysia.
Some O‘ahu retailers are locking up their cans of Spam and corned beef to stop a rash of thefts (joining the protected ranks of abalone, tobacco and spray paint). One man steals a case of Spam from a Fort Street Mall store and punches a security guard who tries to stop him. Another man pushes a cart containing eight cases of Spam from the Waimalu Safeway, bypassing the registers and walking right out the door. A 17-year-old girl steals a Spam musubi and chocolate bar from a Waikīkī store. She is charged with second-degree robbery and second-degree burglary. And three women attempt to steal 18 cases of Spam from the ‘Ewa Beach Longs.
Honolulu residents complain that the city is allowing construction of so-called monster homes —think 16 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms—in neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes. The giant houses are causing concern in O‘ahu residential neighborhoods, where they are blocking views, exacerbating parking problems and raising questions about their very existence.
After years of advocacy for the health benefits of medical cannibis and the opening of some dispensaries to card-carrying patients, the Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance starts urging everyone to abandon terms such as marijuana, pot, weed and reefer. The alliance also is discouraging making jokes about cannabis.
Where’s the grownup?
A Maui woman who ran a potty-training boot camp is found guilty of third-degree assault of a 17-month-old Pā‘ia boy after she is found to have used “substantial force” to hold him down during a daylong session. Also, a bench warrant is issued when the woman fails to show up for a separate trial date in May after being accused of assaulting another toddler.
Actor, former pro wrestler and onetime Hawai‘i resident Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shoots parts of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle on O‘ahu with Jack Black, Nick Jonas and others. He talks about being so broke when he was a 14-year-old McKinley High student that he would steal a Snickers bar daily from the 7-Eleven near his gym. In May, he tells GQ that running for president is “a real possibility.”
A killer committed to the Hawai‘i State Hospital by reason of insanity for a brutal murder walks out of the mental hospital on a Sunday morning, catches a cab to the airport, uses cash to charter a private plane to Maui and then jumps on a flight to California before hospital officials even report him missing. State health officials put seven hospital employees on leave while the state investigates. Meanwhile, Randall Saito is arrested in California and officials question Gov. David Ige and the Health Department about how a patient could slip away after repeatedly being denied unescorted release. In California, Saito—who had been deemed a high risk since his “heinous and brutal” murder of Sandra Yamashiro at Ala Moana Center in 1979—says he was trying to prove that he could be out in the community.
Can’t touch that
It is now illegal to look at your cell phone or hand-held device while crossing the street in Honolulu. The City Council and Mayor Kirk Caldwell support the move, which apparently makes Honolulu the first major city to try to crack down on “distracted walking.”
If you say so
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa sets off a firestorm of criticism while discussing rock removal in ‘Īao Valley as part of a flood control project when he declares “there’s no such thing as sacred rocks.” The Valley Isle leader later apologizes to any Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners he may have offended and says he was worried about public safety.
They said help minors!
Federal prosecutors say the chief financial officer of Kona’s Youth With a Mission’s University of the Nations school stole $2.5 million from the international Christian school, which owns an African gold mine and kept loose diamonds in a safe deposit box.
CIRCLE OF LIFE
Former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his city prosecutor wife, Katherine Kealoha, are indicted by federal grand jury along with four former and current police officers on charges that include fraud, conspiracy and ID theft. Prosecutors allege Katherine Kealoha misused funds entrusted to her as an attorney on lavish spending that included pricey mortgages; Maserati and Mercedes payments; Elton John tickets; and private school tuition for their daughter. Then their lawyers ask to be removed from the cases because the couple can’t pay the legal fees.
Saving the world used to be a good thing
As part of an HPD plan to improve communication, the administration of former Chief Kealoha pays the Bennet Group PR firm more than $106,000. The result includes a seven-page media training guide that raises media eyebrows with comments such as: “Reporters feed on emotions. If they sense you don’t want to be there, they will push even harder. They think all of their questions are brilliant.” Our favorite part is this description of how reporters think: “want to save the world, interested in conflict, tell stories to make a point, look for drama.”
The state honors the late powerful Sen. Daniel Inouye by renaming Honolulu International Airport after him. Since the airport is known as being crowded, outdated and in a constant state of reconstruction, some question if it is a wise tribute to the senior senator who steered so much funding to his home state.
The search for a new state schools superintendent is mired in drama after veteran educator Darrel Galera goes from search committee to preferred candidate of Gov. David Ige. After the Castle Foundation withdraws a grant to help select the new superintendent because of the controversy, Galera withdraws. Out-of-state candidate Christine Kishimoto is chosen instead.
BACK TO CARBS
The state faces an outbreak of rat lungworm disease that makes people wary of eating produce—such as local lettuce—when visitors are hospitalized after apparently ingesting the tiny parasitic worm while in the Islands. The disease, angiostrongyliasis, is usually rare, confined to an average of one to nine cases each year statewide. Symptoms range from mild, such as headaches and stiffness, to coma and even death. Health officials and farmers encourage thorough washing of greens as panic subsides.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard draws attention as a lawmaker, military veteran, Hindu, surfer. Her high profile fuels speculation that she’s heading for higher office. She went from supporter of candidate Bernie Sanders to meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and while the poised representative defends her motive for the trip, she refunds payment to her trip sponsors.
For the keiki
The city and the state authority that oversees Kaka‘ako reluctantly shut down the waterfront park, wiping out the Children’s Discovery Center’s annual fundraiser, yet is able to clean and reopen the area in time for the Hawai‘i Five-0 shoot the next week.
Floatzilla on the Fourth
So, on the Fourth of July, 8,000 to 10,000 people show up for a “floatilla” in Waikīkī that is mostly publicized via social media, drawing many in small boats and floaties better suited to a pool than choppy surf, and a lot of alcohol. Hundreds have to be rescued from the water and 10 people are hospitalized with alcohol-related injuries, including a 19-year-old in critical condition. The age range of people who require medical care is 17 to 26; lifeguards describe the gathering as one of the most dangerous floatillas in the state.
The Sea Will Tell
Two Hawai‘i women and their dogs are rescued after they say they were adrift at sea for five months. The Coast Guard is skeptical about their story because they did not use an EPIRB emergency beacon they had on board, no storm matches their account of being swamped at sea and other parts of their story sound shaky.
The Honolulu Zoo, struggling since losing its accreditation, has seen a revolving door of zoo directors, but a new director who has been there for years is greeted with optimism. Other bright spots? An escaped chimpanzee is scooped up in 10 minutes. And a baby sloth is born!
SEE ALSO: Meet the Honolulu Zoo’s Newborn Sloth
A Maui man is facing federal prison time after an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives accuses him of using a mango picker to steal guns from a Kahului storage unit. The owner of the unit had not realized the guns were missing until reached by federal agents after one of the handguns is used in an attempted robbery of a Walgreens.
Duck and cover
UH sends out an ominous email blast to 50,000 students and 10,000 employees with the subject line: “In the event of a nuclear attack.” The wording of the well-intentioned warning makes international headlines. A UH spokesman says he wishes he could have taken back the message, which was drawn up in response to questions received about escalating tension with North Korea and international news about the possibility of missile strikes.