President Barack Obama, who planned to keep a low profile on his vacation in Hawaii, managed to avoid a bizarre turn of events yesterday just outside his security bubble.
Police arrested a 39-year-old Kailua man who, while trying to elude police, drove onto the Kailua Street where the president is staying, and was greeted by Secret Service agents at a security checkpoint.
The man, Leon Rodrigues, led police on a chase from the security barricade over the H-3 to Halawa before officers caught up with him and arrested him at a village run by Hawaiian activists in Waimanalo.
Police said the chase began about 2:20 p.m. when a caller reported the man, who was wanted on five warrants, four of them for traffic violations, was at a house in Kailua. Responding officers spotted him driving his silver Nissan Titan pickup at Kainui Drive and North Kalaheo Avenue, about a block from the street where Obama and his family are staying.
With their blue lights off, officers followed Rodrigues’ truck.
When Rodrigues reached Kailuana Place, where Obama is staying, officers turned on their lights and began the pursuit.
Rodrigues turned around at the checkpoint, drove back out and led police on a chase toward Halawa on the H-3 freeway, said Honolulu Police Maj. Susan Ballard.
The pickup never breached the secured area at the president’s vacation compound, and the driver apparently panicked at the sight of the security detail and bolted, said Honolulu Secret Service Special Agent-in-Charge Al Joaquin.
Edwin Donovan of the Secret Service said he was unaware of the whereabouts of Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha, but said the incident never posed a threat to the first family.
The incident was unrelated to the president’s visit, and police are handling the investigation, Joaquin said.
"There was really never any excessive speeds," Ballard said. "He just was refusing to stop. He just kept going."
At the Halawa end of the H-3, police ended their pursuit when the man turned around and headed back toward Kaneohe.
"He actually cut across the grassy median and along the shoulder of Moanalua (freeway), but then he got back on the H-3 to go in the right direction," she said.
Obama was golfing at the Klipper Golf Course on the Marine Corps in Kaneohe at the time of the incident, a White House pool report said.
An officer spotted the truck leaving the H-3 freeway at Kamehameha Highway, and police later found it at the end of Puuhonua o Waimanalo at the end of Waikupanaha Road, a village founded by Hawaiian activist Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele’s Nation of Hawaii.
Kanahele said a man drove his truck past the front gate of the village and that Kanahele and his nephew tried to persuade the man to get out of his vehicle.
"The guy came driving inside here, and of course the cops were chasing him," Kanahele said. When the man refused to get out, HPD had the village gate closed, he said.
Ballard said when Rodrigues refused officers’ commands to get out of the vehicle, officers broke the passenger window and used a Taser to subdue him.
He was taken into custody at about 4 p.m. and taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
It was not clear whether the man was trying to seek refuge in the village. The land occupied by the Nation of Hawaii is leased from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Many have tried to seek refuge from the law in the village, Kanahele said.
"Anybody in his right mind knows that if you’re doing something real bad, especially going through one blockade of the president, you’re going to get in trouble, I don’t care where you run," Kanahele said. "If you’re screwing up with law, brah, and you’re coming inside here trying to hide from them, we’re not going to stand for those kinds of things."
Rodrigues was being held at the police cellblock downtown.
Away from the activity, the president began his day with what has become a familiar routine during his trips to Hawaii: a morning workout at a gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. He returned to the base later in the morning to play a round of golf with two of his childhood friends from his years growing up in Hawaii, as well as a family friend from Chicago.
Obama has no public events scheduled during his 11-day vacation, and aides said he planned to spend much of his time at the oceanfront home his family was renting in Kailua.
"He is as much as anything anxious to spend time where he grew up with his family and to see his sister," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Obama’s half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her family live on Oahu. The president planned to visit with several childhood friends while on the island, and he was also being joined on vacation by Chicago friends Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker.
On the president’s reading vacation reading list: "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime," Lou Cannon’s biography of the Republican president.
Obama’s vacation will not be all rest and relaxation. He was to be briefed by advisers daily, and he also planned to spend time working on his State of the Union address, scheduled for January, and a staff review headed by interim chief of staff Pete Rouse.
Obama also spoke by phone yesterday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The two leaders hailed the Senate’s ratification a day earlier of a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms pact as a historic event.