POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 16, 2011
As the Fourth of July approaches, the state must be prepared to patrol Ahu o Laka to prevent yet another drunken confrontation for which the 3-acre patch of sand off the Windward coast is becoming known.
The sandbar has been a favorite place for nearby residents to congregate on holidays and should remain so — but only if more responsibility prevails, especially on the part of users.
A more effective effort is badly needed to keep the peace, and on the state's part, that means tighter enforcement and perhaps declaring a closing time for the sandbar.
On this year's Memorial Day, 26-year-old Nelden Torres of Kaneohe was unconscious with head injuries after falling backward and hitting his head on the asphalt at Heeia Kea Pier, the nearest access point to the sandbar, by the time police arrived about 6 p.m. He later died. A 28-year-old man was arrested but the city prosecutor decided against pressing charges since Torres had sought out the suspect. The two men reportedly had been seen fighting at the sandbar earlier in the afternoon. The suspect apparently was acting in self-defense at the pier.
More than 200 boats and 500 people had spent the day at the sandbar. Seven officers of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources had been patrolling the sandbar and the pier, and broke up a fight at about noon involving two men. The officers had gone off duty prior to the later fight at the pier.
In 1997, a series of brawls after a rowdy Labor Day concert on the sandbar resulted in calls to ban activity on the sandbar. On Labor Day of 2005, a riot broke out on the sandbar following a concert. On Memorial Day of 2007, a fight at the sandbar sent three people to the hospital with injuries. On the previous night, police had broken up a fight involving 20 people at the pier. In 2009, one man reportedly was stabbed during a Labor Day fight involving dozens of people on the sandbar.
In response to the 2005 riot, the next Legislature passed a bill that would have made Ahu o Laka a state monument, but then-Gov. Linda Lingle correctly vetoed it. She pointed out that the state already has the authority to govern activities, and such a declaration would have drawn tourists to a spot that traditionally has been coveted by residents.
The 2009 Legislature approved a resolution calling for the DLNR's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement to "adjust, as necessary, the work schedules of its enforcement officers to limit financial strain as much as possible, yet ensure the provision of necessary enforcement services on weekends and holidays, and at night on a limited basis."
That goes to the heart of the dilemma: allowing revelers to enjoy a state natural resource while ensuring public safety. State enforcement officials cannot be everywhere, but their mere policing presence can and does deter violent or illegal behavior, such as boating under the influence.
On holidays and long weekends, the sandbar's boisterous partying needs to wind down and come to an end when enforcement officers call it a day.