Sour Poi Awards: Looking Back on the Best of the Worst News in Hawai‘i from 2019

The offbeat, obscure and outrageous.
Sour Poi Hawaii


If we had to choose one word for the major news of 2019, it might very well be “missing.” For much of the year, Honolulu was missing its top city prosecutor, who was out on paid leave under the cloud of a federal investigation. While campaigning for president, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard missed about one-fourth of her congressional votes. Windward drivers really missed 24/7 access to the busy Pali Highway. And a rare African hornbill named Najuma escaped from the zoo and remained missing despite several sightings. Welcome to the latest edition of HONOLULU Magazine’s Sour Poi Awards, where we zero in on a year’s worth of news that makes us shake our heads. Yes, the saga of fallen power couple Louis and Katherine Kealoha merits a long look. In their case, it seems common sense went missing. Our magazine calls this annual backward glance Sour Poi, as in a dish of tangy comic relief to go with news stories, from the infamous to the obscure.


still trying

Sour Poi Hawaii

Chicago-based Aloha Poke Co. remains undeterred by last year’s outrage over its attempt to trademark the Hawaiian words aloha and poke and its mailing of cease-and-desist letters to businesses with similar names. In October the company announced it plans to open 100 more shops across the nation to try to cash in on the Mainland poke fad.



Two employees at the Māpunapuna Teddy’s Bigger Burgers were fired after posting Snapchat video that they said shows them grilling a rat at the restaurant. Deep cleaning followed.


“I’m an Asian trapped in a white body.”


go bananas

Ed Case was elected to Congress again after a 12-year absence and quickly found out how much the scene has changed. In remarks to a Washington, D.C., reception for Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, he told them: “I’m an Asian trapped in a white body.” The remark blew up on the national Twittersphere though it drew mostly eye rolls here at home. Later, Case clarified through a spokesman that his Japanese American wife, Audrey, sometimes says he acts like he’s Asian inside.


Aim high

tulsi gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard’s long-shot campaign to be U.S. president often feels like a reality TV show. For months, she missed 1 of 4 votes in Congress and spent more time campaigning in the Midwest than in Hawai‘i. Gabbard charges the media are biased against her when she’s asked questions about her visit with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and her lifelong links to the Science of Identity Foundation and its leader, Chris Butler. She courted national news coverage while shunning local media. She complained about not being invited to one presidential debate then threatened to boycott it. She couldn’t remember the full name of her press secretary. And when Hillary Clinton was misquoted as saying that Gabbard is a favorite of the Russians (rather than Republicans), Gabbard tweeted a blistering response calling Clinton “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.” President Donald Trump then defended Gabbard. In late October Gabbard announced she would not seek reelection to her seat in Congress because she is “fully committed” to running for president.


That Sinking Feeling

The once-proud Scottish sailing ship the Falls of Clyde again fell upon hard times and started to sink at Pier 7 in Honolulu Harbor. Emergency repairs stopped the leak but international efforts to take the vessel back to Scotland stalled. The iron-hulled, four-masted full-rigged ship is the only surviving sail-driven oil tanker in the world. Once a museum ship, last year it was impounded by the state and put up for auction, but drew no qualified bids. While the nonprofit Friends of the Falls of Clyde continues to advocate for preservation, the state says the ship is a safety hazard, making its long journey home uncertain.



The Oxford English Dictionary added howzit and hammajang (with that messed-up spelling). It caused some head-scratching over how the big British book chose those two regional words to add. Wonder what’s next?


SEE ALSO: Merriam-Webster Updates Definition of “Hawaiian” With a New Usage Note


On a Wing and a Tear

In February, stormy weather blew a tree into the African ground hornbill enclosure at the Honolulu Zoo, allowing two of the imposing rare birds to escape. One of them, Martha, was swiftly returned but the second, a 13-year-old male named Najuma, remained on the loose, even though he’s been spotted several times. Cellphone video captured one zoo worker at Kapi‘olani Park tripping over a fallen tree while trying to scoop up the hornbill. The big bird has been spotted in the park and at the Diamond Head visitor lookout. City officials ask anyone who sees him to call 911.


Tunnel Vision

pali highway

When rocks and mud tumbled onto the Pali Highway in February, Windward commuters figured that the cleanup and repair might take some time. Few expected the overnight road closures to stretch into the last weeks of the year, forcing drivers to the H-3 freeway, Likelike or Kalaniana‘ole highways. On the bright side, the state got a lot of paving done and preventive measures are designed to slow the roll of any future rocks.


sour poiA-who-ee?

Five members claiming to represent the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi stormed the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs in January saying they were there to seize assets and arrest trustees. Honolulu police arrested five of them and reported that some members of the little-known group had prior run-ins with the law. Hawaiian sovereignty leaders condemned the Atooians’ move.


Hey! This Guy Knows the Way to San Jose

Psychopathic killer Randall Saito walked away from the Hawai‘i State Hospital, caught a cab, chartered a plane to Maui, then bought a ticket on a commercial flight to California. And the staff of the hospital where he had been held for more than 35 years didn’t report him missing until he reached San Jose. Outrage and investigation followed his arrest in California days later. A massive report last year by the state Health Department found no single person responsible for helping him escape from the forensic psychiatric facility, describing him as a charming, manipulative model prisoner who has had relationships with staffers and civilians and even married an employee. Officials admit to “relaxed oversight.” Last we checked, he was awaiting trial at the O‘ahu Community Correctional Center.


slumber party

maui prisoners

In what sounds like something out of a TV comedy, two Maui prison inmates escaped while corrections officers slept nearby. Prison officials say the men broke through a termite-eaten door at the Maui Community Correctional Center simply by pushing hard and wedging a broom under it. The inmates later told police that they even paused to check if the sound of the door popping open woke the officers but found them “passed out cold.” The two men then carefully covered the razor-wire fence with pieces of clothing while they slowly climbed over. One man turned himself in hours after the escape and the other was arrested the next day.


Lose Face

An O‘ahu man convicted of attempted murder in a 2016 road rage triple stabbing showed up at court for his sentencing in July wearing blackface, which he had drawn himself with a marker. Mark Char, 60, of ‘Ewa Beach, told the judge, “You’re treating me like a black man, so today, I’m going to be a black man.” Court records show he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the attempted murder charge.


Barking Up the Wrong Tree

manoa tree

Mānoa residents puzzled over bark missing from acacia trees in the popular community park. Turns out vandals hacked some off, probably for psychedelic reasons. The bark has some medicinal purposes but is known to contain the chemical DMT—a hallucinogen. The city posted warning signs on the damaged trees. Vandals can be fined $500 and spend up to 30 days in jail.


Not that button


A September Honolulu Police Department training exercise led to false emergency warning sirens sounding again. After the January 2018 statewide missile alert that prompted widespread panic, people are understandably jumpy. In that case, it took the governor 38 minutes to send an all-clear and explain what happened. This time, Honolulu police swiftly took responsibility for the mistake and apologized.


why you gotta be so nude?

In August, two large nude statues suddenly appeared on the quiet island of Lāna‘i near the entrance to the former resort The Lodge at Koele and just yards away from the historic Ka Lōkahi o Ka Mālamalama Church. The buxom bronze man and woman are the works of artist Fernando Botero, a sculptor/painter well-known for large-scale depictions. While the art apparently was part of the extensive revamp of the island by tech billionaire Larry Ellison, after some residents complained the statues left as suddenly as they showed up. No word on where they might have streaked off to as the former plantation town transforms into a luxury wellness retreat.


Got Binoculars?


The recent long-running eruption on the Big Island badly damaged the observatory within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and destroyed hundreds of homes. That led some federal officials in Washington, D.C., to talk about moving the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to O‘ahu, several islands away. The current plan is to keep it on the island with the most active volcanoes. But no final decision has been made.


thank u, next

For most of the year, Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro was paid to miss work. After receiving a target letter notifiying him he was being investigated in a continuing federal public corruption probe—the same one that his former deputy, Katherine Kealoha, is embroiled in—Kaneshiro first refused to go on leave, then kept showing up at the office, which raised ethical concerns. While all this was going on, he got a raise­—to $177,000 a year. After 18 years in office, he told his attorney he won’t seek reelection next year.


SEE ALSO: HONOLULU Magazine Remembers the Decade That Was: Hawai‘i Through the 2010s


Slippery Slope

Three pro athletes from Europe appeared in a viral video skiing and snowboarding on a cinder cone in an off-limits area of Maunakea. They later apologized for the stunt.


Lost in Translation

Hiker Amanda Eller got lost on Maui after leaving her cellphone behind, prompting a huge rescue effort that included family, friends and the social media community. After 17 days, she was found hungry and thirsty, injured but mostly well. She granted national media requests before local. While she was spending her time meditating, doing yoga and exploring a spiritual journey—her words—searchers feared she had died. Eller later apologized for trekking into the woods unprepared, vowing she was not on drugs.


Keeping Up with the Kealohas


Just a few years ago, this power couple seemed on top of the law enforcement food chain. Louis Kealoha was Honolulu’s police chief, his wife, Katherine Kealoha, a prominent deputy city prosecutor. The two were living the life: driving a Maserati and Mercedes, living in a prestigious Kāhala home, enjoying a luxury profile. But after they reported the strange tale of their stolen mailbox and blamed a relative, their stories unraveled, exposing evidence that included money embezzled from her elderly grandmother, as well as from children who were entrusted to her legal oversight. The probe also uncovered Katherine Kealoha’s affair with a Big Island firefighter. The Kealohas insisted they were innocent; they held hands and wore matching clothing to court. But in June, the two were found guilty of obstruction and conspiracy charges. The federal judge, describing Katherine as the mastermind of the offenses, ordered her to report immediately to prison. In October, Katherine agreed to a deal to plead guilty to bank fraud, identity theft and covering up knowledge of a drug ring that involved her doctor brother. Louis filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences and pleaded guilty to bank fraud in his own plea deal. Both are scheduled for sentencing in March. Book/movie deal next?


“It is obviously ironic that our project to improve stream habitat for ‘o‘opu appears to have resulted in loss of hundreds of fish.”


just add water

A state water resource plan to improve the stream habitat for the native ‘o‘opu (gobies) at the mouth of the Wailuku River temporarily reduced the flow of the stream, leaving hundreds of the fish in shallow water, gasping for air. State commission on water resource management chair Suzanne Case summed it up: “It is obviously ironic that our project to improve stream habitat for ‘o‘opu appears to have resulted in loss of hundreds of fish.” She apologized to the Wailuku River community and committed to working toward improving stream conditions.


SEE ALSO: Sour Poi Awards: Looking Back on the Offbeat, Obscure and Outrageous News of 2018


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Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman