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Hilo man accused of leading illegal tours to see lava

    One of many small breakouts on the surface of the June 27th flow immediately upslope of the leading edge. Many inflation features are present on the flow
    Joel Scharer, Jr.

A 24-year-old Hilo man is charged with trespassing, reckless endangering and conducting illegal commercial activities in a natural area reserve for allegedly leading a tour group on state land to see the lava flow in Puna.

Joel D. Scharer, Jr. was arrested leading a  tour group into the lava fields of the  Kahaualea Natural Area Reserve on Wednesday, officials said.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources closed the Kahaualea Natural Area Reserve because of the hazardous conditions caused by the lava flow.

The state land department declined to say how many other tour groups Scharer may have taken into the area since the case is still under investigation. A department spokeswoman also declined to say how many people were in the tour group.

“The safety of the public remains our top priority,” said Carty S. Chang, Interim DLNR Chairperson. “Illegal commercial tours into areas closed by volcanic activity are dangerous to both the public as well as rescue responders. Violators will face citation or arrest,” Chang added.   

Scharer, Jr.,  is charged with second-degree trespass, a petty misdemeanor, and second-degree reckless endangering; prohibited entry into a natural area reserve and illegal commercial activities within the natural area reserve, all of which are misdemeanor offenses.

In December, the state cited two other people, a 50-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman, on similar charges for allegedly leading illegal tours to see the lava in the forest reserve.

The DNLR said an undercover operation led to those arrests.

Entering closed lands carries a $5,000 fine.   

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