Sour Poi Awards: Celebrating the Strange, the Stupid and the Scandalous of 2015
Honoring the best of the worst new stories from 2015.
Illustrations: Dana Paresa
In 2015, Hawai‘i got a whole lot of new stuff it didn’t want, including a record number of tropical storms (which happily all missed us), record-breaking crazy-hot weather and traffic jams that stretched out longer than ever before. In such an unprecedented kind of year, it was almost comforting to realize that the Islands still have to deal with our share of the usual wacky news—bumbling criminals, embarrassing gaffes and, of course, rascally elected officials such as Big Island mayor Billy Kenoi, whose ill-advised pCard adventures made him the year’s favorite whipping boy for journalists and political wags alike. It somehow just wouldn’t be Hawai‘i without some lolo stuff every now and then.
Hey, pCard Spender
Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi admitted that he had charged more than $129,000 worth of personal expenses on his county pCard over six years. The charges included an $892 tab at Honolulu hostess bar Club Evergreen, a surfboard, a bicycle, as well as a pattern of lavish hotel and dining expenses. He also paid his Hawai‘i State Bar Association dues with the county card. Asked why he didn’t use his personal card, he told reporters he didn’t have one.
Florida-based NextEra Energy’s bid to buy out Hawaiian Electric Industries won’t be settled anytime soon. But last month’s hearings before state regulators turned up at least one fascinating aspect of the proposed mega-deal. How much would this big deal save HECO customers? $1 a month.
Dial it Down, HPD
In late March, 65 motorists stuck in the year’s largest traffic jam got a double whammy when police ticketed them for using their cell phones. HPD later apologized, and Mayor Kirk Caldwell provided the drivers with letters asking the court to dismiss their tickets, given the circumstances.
who’s the one who needs a heart, again?
A Pāhoa man was arrested in February for stealing a donation jar intended for an 8-year-old girl who needed a heart transplant. Store surveillance footage showed Jeffrey W. Kleinschmidt stuffing the jar, which contained about $200, down his pants.
too much violence on tv these days
In June, a man was arrested at the Kona Wal-Mart after allegedly smashing a dozen television sets on display with a bat, also taken from the store.
gone with the wind
In September, the owner of two Maui wind farms asked the government to be allowed to kill more endangered Hawaiian hoary bats and nene with its turbines. Under federal Forestry and Wildlife regulations, SunEdison Inc. is permitted to kill 14 bats and 30 Hawaiian geese over the course of 20 years—a level the company said was not enough to account for the rate of accidental fatalities at the wind farms. The Endangered Species Recovery Committee gave the proposed increase an initial OK. In somewhat related news, earlier this past year, the Hawai‘i state Legislature named the hoary bat as the official state land mammal. Guess that’s more of an honorary title.
His Glass is Always Half Full
Jon Riki Karamatsu resigned his position as deputy prosecutor in April after getting arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, and refusing to submit to alcohol testing. It was his second DUI arrest, the first one in 2007 after running his car into a freeway overpass pillar. This time, the state suspended Karamatsu’s license for two years. He continued to help promote the rave Love Fest, and updated his personal blog with a self-help series called “Positive Living Practice,” on how to “achieve a more happy and fulfilling life.”
Wrong club, mate
Australian pro golfer Robert Allenby went out on the town after he missed the cut at the Sony Open. What happened next depends on who you ask. He told police his evening began at a wine bar, but ended in his being drugged, beaten, robbed, thrown in the trunk of a car and dumped in a park. However, a homeless woman named Charade who went to his aid says she found him dazed and lying on the sidewalk in front of the wine bar. If that wasn’t enough confusion, a Golf Channel reporter popped up saying that Allenby had run up a $3,400 tab at the Club Femme Nu strip club that night.
The Life of a Street Banger
Remember state Rep. Tom Brower’s 2014 sledgehammer adventures, when he made national news for smashing shopping carts he found on the street? His clashes with Honolulu’s homeless continued in 2015. In June, he went to Kaka‘ako and started recording video of the homeless encampment there. A couple of teenagers, who say that Brower laughed at them and refused to stop filming, allegedly hit and kicked him, with the help of several other kids, sending Brower to the hospital with a concussion and two swollen eyes.
State food-safety inspectors were busy in 2015, shutting down several eateries for sanitation violations. The first casualty: Pa‘ala‘a Kai Bakery, in Waialua. The bakery, beloved for its snow puffy treats, was closed for more than a month after inspectors found it repeatedly failed to keep its food chilled enough to meet safe and legal standards.
A Punchbowl resident made headlines in June after he chopped down dozens of trees on his property that were protected by Punchbowl Special District rules. The lot, which used to belong to noted artist Madge Tennent, and sported a full canopy of trees, was left with just one large tree standing. The city issued Raymond Kang a notice of violation, and ordered him to pay a $3,800 penalty, replant with new trees, and obtain a permit to cut the original trees.
Turns out the men were, in fact, asking for it
Police arrested 16 women working at massage parlors near Ala Moana Center in May, charging them not with prostitution, but fourth-degree sexual assault. Honolulu prosecutors later dismissed the charges, saying they didn’t think it was possible to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.
ILLUSTRATIONS: DANA PARESA
In January, Waiākea High School wrestling coach Stan Haraguchi lopped a few inches of hair from one of his female wrestlers, after a “friendly bet” that the girl would lose her long locks if she lost a match. Unfortunately, the coach didn’t check with the student’s mother first. “I’m shaking,” said the mother to the Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald. “My daughter’s hair went all the way down her butt before. Now it looks like a rat has been nibbling on it.” Local police launched an investigation into the incident, and Waiākea High suspended Haraguchi from his position.
They’re Lovin’ It
In February, McDonalds added a few Hawaiian-themed specialty items to its menu, including a Hawaiian barbecue pork burger, a loco-moco burger and pineapple pie. Yum! Unfortunately for Hawai‘i residents ‘ono for some Island-flavored fast food, though, these treats were only available in Japan.
In June, a man on trial for forgery, resisting arrest and attempted theft couldn’t leave well enough alone. Sheriff’s deputies at the state courthouse discovered security footage showing Justin Abas stealing a jar of Hershey’s Kisses from a checkpoint. Added to his charges—a count of fourth-degree theft.
In March, the state revoked its contract with Hālau Lōkahi Charter School, after allegations that the school’s officials had racked up more than $100,000 in questionable spending and money laundering. In addition to numerous payments made to nonexistent vendors, the school’s purchases included acupuncture, essential oils and the services of a “clairvoyant psychic healer.” The school closed at the end of the school year.
No wonder his ethics were so relaxed
Politically connected Honolulu businessman Albert Hee was convicted in July of falsely claiming $2.3 million in personal and family expenses as legitimate business tax deductions from his company, Waimana Enterprises Inc. Where’d the money go? Almost $1.7 million went to salaries for his wife and three kids, who didn’t actually work for his company. More than $700,000 went to putting his kids through college on the Mainland. And for himself, Hee spent $96,000 of the company’s cash on twice-weekly, two-hour massages.
no trip, teach
In August, the state Ethics Commission issued a memorandum warning public-school teachers that they could face sanctions under the ethics law if they accepted free travel as part of volunteering as chaperones on school trips. The Board of Education vowed to change its policies to ensure that teachers would be able to chaperone students without having to pay their own way, but, as we went to press, the situation remained unresolved.
just the tip
In September, the top section of the spear from the statue of Kamehameha in Hilo went missing—sparking the ire of locals who saw the vandalism as desecration of an important cultural icon. Police later recovered the spear tip from nearby brush, and arrested and charged William Roy Carroll III with the crime.
In July, a cow escaped from a Makakilo ranch and wandered onto Farrington Highway, where it panicked, running into cars and charging pedestrians. Police who responded to the resulting traffic jam shot and killed the animal. Bud Gibson, the ranch owner, lamented the loss, but said, “There’ll be some families that have some good meat.”
we lava to fly
Early in 2015, a Kīlauea lava flow threatened the town of Pāhoa, as well as Highway 130, which connects the Puna district to the outside world. What if the town became cut off? One Hilo attorney had the solution: blimps. Steve Strauss proposed an airship ferry service that would float passengers up and over the lava flow, at $15 a head. He got the support of state Sen. Russell Ruderman, who said he was excited by the idea, but Strauss didn’t get the chance to make his blimp dreams a reality—the lava flow petered out before crossing the highway.
Just Think of It As More Aloha on Every Flight
Interisland travel got a little more cramped this past year—Hawaiian Airlines installed new, lightweight seats that are about an inch closer to each other, and are not able to recline. The new seats will allow Hawaiian to fit five to 10 more passengers on each of its interisland flights.
Fox, Henhouse, Yadda Yadda
In April, the state Legislature confirmed Suzanne Case, previously director of Nature Conservancy Hawai‘i, as the new chairman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources. It was a savvy nomination on the part of new governor David Ige. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his first nomination for the position: That would be Carleton Ching, a long-time lobbyist for local developers. Critics quickly and loudly panned Ching as a bad fit for a position tasked with protecting Hawai‘i’s natural resources, and Ige withdrew the nomination two months later.
Hey, At least they’re not napping
ILLUSTRATIONS: DANA PARESA
In August, the state officially banned its workers from watching online video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, saying that public workers had been “monopolizing a significant portion of our state’s available Internet bandwidth” by streaming during work hours.
One unexpected side effect of the protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope project: invasive black ants. Mauna Kea is one of the only places in Hawai‘i free of ants, at least at elevations above 2,000 feet, but, in April, the tiny insects were discovered in a pile of palms used by protesters to thatch a hale around 9,400 feet.
The flop of the year had to be Cameron Crowe’s latest movie, Aloha. In addition to scoring a dismal 19-percent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie also drew howls from Hawai‘i residents for its ham-fisted attempts at authenticity, and its almost completely haole cast. Most egregiously, the part-Hawaiian/Chinese character Allison Ng was played by blonde Emma Stone. Crowe later apologized for his casting choices, saying his movie had been “misunderstood.”
Does Not Compute
In April, Gov. David Ige pulled the plug on a project to replace the aging computer system of the state Highways Division, saying it didn’t make sense to continue after eight years of vendor delays and complications, and $13.88 million in spending. After all that, the vendor failed to produce a system that actually worked. The debacle’s official title? The Financial Accounting System Transportation, aka The Fast Project.