POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 21, 2011
Jeremy and Autumn Takesue love taking their two young boys to the Kaneohe Bay sandbar when it's quiet and serene, and welcome any effort this week by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to control the rowdiness that breaks out on big holiday weekends like this upcoming Fourth of July.
As he fished from the Heeia Kea Small Boat Harbor pier Monday with his sons, John, 3, and Joshua, 6, Jeremy looked over at the sandbar just over a mile offshore and said of state officials: "They've got to protect families. If people aren't going to treat this precious resource with respect, then they should be banned."
A published agenda for Thursday's meeting of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources includes a proposal by the department to ban alcohol, disorderly conduct and people under the influence of alcohol or drugs in a "safety zone" around the Kaneohe Bay sandbar, also known as Ahu O Laka.
DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward, however, said DLNR staff members are considering changing the proposal for Thursday's meeting, but Ward did not specify what the changes might be.
On Memorial Day, DLNR officials estimated that more than 200 boats surrounded the sandbar and that 500 people spent the day partying on the exposed sand, which at low tide can be as large as three acres.
DLNR enforcement officers boarded 15 vessels and issued 15 warnings for safety violations. The Coast Guard cited one boat that was over capacity and did not have enough life jackets to accommodate everyone on board.
DLNR officers also checked people on the sandbar for underage drinking and broke up a fight between two men.
Then, about 6 p.m., a fight at Heeia Kea Small Boat Harbor — where boats load and unload passengers from the sandbar — ended in the death of Nelden Torres, 26, of Kaneohe.
The Honolulu Medical Examiner's Office found alcohol and cocaine in Torres' system and concluded that he died from bleeding in the brain due to blunt force trauma, and listed his death as a homicide.
Police arrested a 28-year-old man, but the Honolulu Prosecutor's Office did not press charges after witnesses told police that Torres sought out the suspect at the Kaneohe pier. The suspect apparently acted in self-defense, a spokesman for the Honolulu prosecutor said.
The victim apparently threw the first punch and was injured when he fell and hit his head on the asphalt, the spokesman said.
Marcus Luke Sr. of Pearl City was at Heeia Kea Small Boat Harbor on Memorial Day and described the scene as "crazy."
"Everybody had beer, was smoking weed," he said Monday. "It was ridiculous. People was staggering and falling down drunk. You couldn't even see the sandbar. It was covered by people and surrounded by boats. It was wild."
A BAN ON BAD BEHAVIORThe state Department of Land and Natural Resources is considering a ban on alcohol, disorderly conduct and people under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the Kaneohe Bay sandbar, also known as Ahu O Laka. Crowds — and problems — often escalate on holiday weekends, such as this year’s Memorial Day (shown above). Here’s what happened that day:
» 200 or more boats beached or moored at the sandbar
When is the meeting? The Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider the proposed restrictions at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Kalanimoku Building, 1151 Punchbowl St., Conference Room 132.
Over the years, there have been calls to prohibit drinking at Ahu O Laka, to require permits for concerts, and to make it a bird sanctuary as problems continued to add up:
» In 2007, three men were treated for injuries they suffered on the sandbar after a fight broke out on Labor Day.
» On Labor Day 2005, DLNR enforcement officers estimated that more than 400 people and 60 to 70 boats were at the sandbar. One young woman nearly drowned. When her brother tried to help her, someone wielding a beer bottle cut him on the head.
Like several other fans of the sandbar, Joey Silva said there's no place else in Hawaii like Ahu O Laka.
Even though it's clearly visible from shore — and from Heeia Kea harbor — Ahu O Laka offers quiet, peace and serenity, Silva said.
"It's a destination that is not available to any Joe that can catch TheBus and go to the beach," Silva said. "It's unique. You can't get it anywhere else on Oahu or anywhere on the neighbor islands."
Silva is a commercial boat captain who takes groups of six to eight tourists to the sandbar five days a week. On his days off, Silva and his girlfriend like to go to the sandbar to get away from the bustle of life on Oahu.
"It's great when no one's around," he said.
But Silva refuses to go to the sandbar on big holidays, such as the Fourth of July.
"No way," he insisted.
In 2006, state Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kaneohe-Kahuku) introduced a bill that would have made Ahu O Laka a monument, which would have prohibited alcohol.
Former Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill, which essentially left the power to draft stricter rules up to DLNR.
Hee said he wants people to understand the cultural significance of Ahu O Laka, which had been a bird sanctuary and island until it was dredged for sand to develop Kualoa Regional Park and Coconut Island.
But Hee said he welcomes any efforts by DLNR to control drinking and fights there.
"There's no question the abusive nature of the events held on the three-day weekends has to stop," Hee said Monday. "You cannot drink at Waikiki Beach. You cannot drink at Ala Moana Beach. But you can go over to Ahu O Laka and drink. It is too much to expect the Coast Guard and DLNR to be on patrol there on every three-day weekend, plus have HPD on the pier when law enforcement statewide is strapped, particularly on Oahu."
Silva said Ahu O Laka was a relative secret 10 years ago — until word began to spread about drinking and parties.
"Now it's a huge attraction," Silva said. "Everybody and their grandma knows about it."
Boat captain Rallen Caya oversaw Monday the unloading of 90 passengers from the sister boats Barefoot 1 and Merahi Mana that had just returned from Ahu O Laka.
The boats serve alcohol to customers as part of the barbecue lunch that comes with the trip out to Ahu O Laka.
But Caya said he believes the problems at Ahu O Laka stem from irresponsible boaters who drive drunk — and from people on the sandbar who drink to excess and start fights.
"It's just a few punks ruining it for everybody," Caya said.