Top stories of 2015

‘Aloha Vet’ passes away

KILAUEA — Dr. Scott Sims was a local hero to the animal community. He owned and operated Pegasus Vet Clinic in Kilauea, where he attended to the needs of local pets, as well as the health and wellness of Kauai’s wildlife, when the need arose.

Kauai said goodbye to Sims on July 25, when he died at Wilcox Memorial Hospital after a short battle with cancer. He was 59 years old.

He is remembered as the eclectic veterinarian, shuffling barefoot between patients and treating everyone — with or without fur — with aloha.

But it isn’t just loved ones on Kauai that know Dr. Sims’ name, he became recognized nationally after Nat Geo WILD decided to air a reality TV series about him called “Aloha Vet.”

Crews from the show followed Sims around for about two months as he went about his business, saving the lives of and caring for the island’s furry residents. They filmed eight episodes.

In a February TGI news article, Sims said he thought it was his bare feet that originally caught the attention of the Nat Geo crews.

It was in 2014 when they discovered Sims, while filming professional surfer Laird Hamilton. Sims was working on Hamilton’s dog after it had been mauled by a neighbor’s pit bull and he allowed Nat Geo crews into his clinic.

“I think the bare feet caught their attention,” he told TGI. “They seemed to like the fact that I treat a pretty wide variety of animals, and I’m a little unconventional.”

The show premiered on March 21.

In newspaper articles leading up to his death, Sims said he’d had a “fantastic life” and was adamant about spreading aloha during the last of his days on Earth.

“We shut old folks away in homes because we don’t want to see death and what it does to us,” he said in an article printed on July 28. “But it’s a part of life and we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand from it. We all die, every last one of us is going to die. To ignore it and hide from it because we don’t particularly relish it, I think that’s a mistake.

“I have an opportunity to change the way people think about death. And if I have to lose a little privacy along the way, I am OK with that.”

Hanalei principal ousted following protests

HANALEI — Parents at Hanalei Elementary School weren’t happy with the way principal Lisa McDonald was running things, and in September they picketed in front of the school demanding her resignation.

A group of parents, teachers and members of the community held two open meetings to swap information and get organized before staging their first protest, attended by about 65 people on Sept. 10.

“I thought we were working well together and that we were on a positive path,” McDonald told TGI that week. “It caught me by surprise.”

McDonald was in her second year as principal at the school. Protesters said she’d drawn criticism from her first day at the post and that they felt she was unqualified to be principal.

“Our intention is for her to step down on her own, or for the superintendents to do their job and remove her from the school,” Katherine Wilson, current vice president of the parent teacher student association, told TGI in September. “Our children have a right to a good education and leadership and it’s not happening.”

On Sept. 14, McDonald was removed from her post.

“Although I am unable to disclose specific details of my discussion, recommendations and actions, please know the matter is of high priority,” said Bill Arakaki, superintendent of Kauai Complex Area, in a September statement. “Principal McDonald has been reassigned to serve in the district office.”

Safeway opens in Lihue

LIHUE — Ground was broken in Lihue late January for the 22nd Safeway store in Hawaii. The 56,000-square-foot Safeway Lifestyle store is the anchor tenant of the 14-acre Hokulei Village Shopping Complex and created 146 full-and-part-time jobs.

The new store opened on Sept. 18, following a blessing ceremony by Kumu Sabra Kauka and her Island School fourth-grade students.

“This is wonderful,” Hana Montgomery told TGI in September. “Whenever we heard of traffic in Kapaa, that meant we couldn’t go shopping. Having a Safeway here in Lihue is wonderful, especially for all of us on the Westside.”

The store, which is open 24/7 , features fresh produce, a sushi bar, an olive bar, butcher’s block meats, a pharmacy, a Starbucks and a Bank of Hawaii branch.

The Safeway Foundation celebrated the opening by donating $7,500 to three Kauai groups — Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, the Kauai Junior Lifeguard Association and Hale Opio Kauai.

“We’re excited about the role Hokulei Village will play in the community for many years to come,” Alex Liftis, executive vice president with Terramar Retail centers, told TGI during the grand opening.

County cracks down on B&Bs

LIHUE — Cease-and-desist letters landed on the doorsteps of about 300 bed-and-breakfast owners at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 in what officials said was an “unprecedented enforcement move by the county.”

The letters gave those B&B owners two weeks to shut down their business. Noncompliance came with a $10,000-a-day fine.

The issue has to do with hazy homestay definitions, as well as permitting and licensing practices.

“The county has never, ever done that before in its entire history, to send out all of these letters to people telling them to cease and desist and then saying, ‘If you really want to make yourself legal, you need to come in and fill out an application,’” Lihue attorney Jonathan Chun told county planning commissioners in April. “They responded, they ceased and desist, they come and file an application, then the county tells them, ‘Sorry, it’s too much for me to handle. You’ve got to wait 10, or 15 or 30 years and we’ll get to you.’”

In April, the county began the process of clearly defining what homestays are and creating a quota system for approving them. In May the public commented on a proposal before the Kauai County Council, which reinforced the homestay definition by requiring the owner to actually live on site and restricted the number of B&B applications that can be reviewed to no more than 10 a year.

On May 27, the first homestay permit in more than a decade was issued to Dan and Patricia Hempey, and along with it came 18 conditions for operation.

Among them was that the Hempeys must maintain a homestead exemption and that they re-certify on an annual basis.

The conversation swirled through the county council through the year, and a public hearing is set for Jan. 13, 2015, on the issue.

Regulating those barking dogs

LIHUE — Kauai’s 2-year-old barking dog ordinance, which outlined penalties for dog owners who fail to keep their animals quiet, was repealed in August by the Kauai County Council.

The effort was led by Councilman Ross Kagawa. An argument against the ordinance outlines its ineffectiveness and says it places an unfair burden on dog owners who weren’t given fair opportunity to defend themselves.

The bill to repeal the ordinance was approved by the council in a 4-to-3 vote and went into effect by default after Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. returned the bill without signing it.

A new proposal went before the County Council in October, introduced by Councilman KipuKai Kuali’i.

The proposal is the same as the original ordinance, except that it requires more complaints for a dog owner to receive a ticket.

Under the old rule, only one person needed to complain about an excessively loud dog in order to warrant a ticket. The proposal requires at least two people, from two different households in the neighborhood, to file a complaint.

The proposal also requires a log of the frequency of the barking, or a statement from an officer who witnessed the barking.

A public hearing was held for Bill 2604 in early December and will be discussed again at the Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 6, 2016.

According to county officials, the earliest the bill could go back to the council is Jan. 13, but the committee could take longer than that to make a recommendation.

Visitors attacked at Hanalei Pier

LIHUE — A 20-year-old Kapaa man will have his day in court after police said he was part of group of men who allegedly harassed 20 California eighth-graders and two chaperones in May at the Hanalei Pier.

The incident sparked outrage from the community and drew the attention of the mayor who reached out to the California tourists, who said they thought they were “going to die.”

One of the chaperones, Tim Corcoran, 60, said the attacker pulled up in his truck and had an exchange of words with one of his male students and the situation escalated.

According to reports, punches were thrown and people were spat on.

Iona Keola Loi is charged with two counts of assault in the third degree and one count of harassment.

In an interview with The Garden Island, Loi described the incident differently, claiming the students began the confrontation.

His trial is set for Jan. 25, 2016.

Kauai Humane Society Dispute

Nearly 20 picketers stood outside the Kauai Humane Society on a morning in the middle of June, protesting the firing of two employees from KHS.

The protest was the culmination of unrest among the staff at KHS that some alleged had been brewing for the past two and a half years. It was all centered on the facility’s executive director, Penny Cistaro.

Employees presented a 70-page binder full of documentation to the Board of Directors, alleging things like dirty kennels, mismanagement and unnecessary euthanasias as reasons for Cistaro’s removal.

A petition, signed by 12 employees, was also presented to the board, demanding her resignation. It wasn’t the majority of her staff, Cistaro said, the complaints ware coming from about one third of the group.

“The accusations of poor animal care is an insult to the staff and to me,” Cistaro told TGI in May. “It’s one thing to have disgruntled employees take it to the board, but to take it to the public when we depend on the community so closely to support what we do — it’s the animals that end up struggling for that.”

Just before the June protests, two of KHS’s employees were terminated — former field service manager Mana Brown and customer service manager Brandy Varvel.

Those firings came about a month after the pair went public with their concerns about Cistaro’s leadership.

Cistaro declined to comment on why they were fired. Written on their release papers was a statement saying Hawaii is an at-will employment state; therefore employees can be fired for any number of reasons.

Throughout the months-long dispute, KHS board president Emily Larocque confirmed that KHS had been under-reporting its euthanasia numbers over the last five years due to a math error.

A previous report stated that the facility’s euthanasia numbers were at 52 percent. The reality is that the euthanasia rate is 70 percent.

Kauai County Council Chairman Mel Rapozo said an audit of KHS is currently underway.

Magayanes, defense attorneys fighting prosecutor against probable cause

When a 19-year-old man — walking along a dark highway in Hanapepe — was hit by a civilian driver on Jan. 3, the first responding officer on scene struck and killed the man, prosecutors said.

In August, KPD officer Irvin Magayanes was charged with negligent homicide in the second degree for the death of Michael Kocher, Jr.

Police Chief Daryl Perry issued a statement, and Magayanes was put on administrative duties until the issue could be resolved.

Kocher was walking in the middle of the street about 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 3 on Kaumualii Highway in Kaumakani, just east of the Kaumakani Post Office, when a Toyota Corolla struck him.

Alan Yamagata (the driver of the Corolla who was not charged with the incident) and bystanders covered Kocher and called police, according to sources close to the investigation.

Magayanes was the first officer to respond to an unspecified location between mile marker 19 and 20. Prosecutor Justin Kollar said he was negligent because he was speeding to the scene.

Defense attorneys Dan Hempey and Craig De Costa shot back with a motion to dismiss felony information for the charge against Magayanes and said the prosecutor had erred because no probable cause existed saying police always speed when responding to emergency incidents.

Several officers testified in a preliminary hearing, stating speeding to an emergency was common practice.

The judge said speeding wasn’t the issue, but slowing down when getting to the scene should have been more of their concern.

In the end, the motion was denied.

Magayanes’ trial is set for May 2 before Judge Randal Valenciano.

Coral Bleaching

It was a record year for ocean temperatures, which wasn’t good for Kauai’s reefs, and it was the second year in a row that higher-than-normal sea surface temperatures weakened the coral.

“When you have repeated bleaching on a reef within a short period of time, it’s very hard for the corals to recover and survive,” Mark Eakin, coral reef watch coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told TGI in July.

In the fall of 2014, Hawaii experienced widespread coral bleaching for the first time since 1996, and this fall’s bleaching was a double whammy for Kauai’s reefs.

“Hawaii is getting hit with the worst coral bleaching they have ever seen, right now,” Eakin said in October. “ It’s severe. It’s extensive. And it’s on all the islands.”

Coral bleaching occurs when heat stress causes coral to expel the algae that gives them their color. Bleaching weakens coral, but it can also cause death.

On Kauai, marine biologist Terry Lilley said about 5 percent of the coral he’s seen at each of his 60 North Shore dive sites has been bleached.

In addition to the bleaching, the warm water brought with it black band disease, which is lethal to coral and is found in near-shore waters. The disease was first spotted in 2004 and has been spotted in coral around the island since then.

In a statewide effort to teach Hawaiians how to identify and report coral bleaching, Bleachpalooza was launched on Oct. 3, where people on Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island went out simultaneously to check the reefs.

The Lihue Murder

It all started with a man’s body found by the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall in September.

Police began the search for top suspect Francisco Keola Manuel, who allegedly stabbed Gary Allen Allianic to death, according to police reports.

In a few hours, he was located by the Old Historic Building and taken into custody. Bail was set to $1 million.

Manuel was charged with murder in the second degree for the stabbing death of Allianic and assault in the second degree for stabbing his pregnant girlfriend Jasmine Duque.

Allianic was the aggressor, according to preliminary hearing testimony by Manuel’s pregnant girlfriend, who was also present during the stabbing and was stabbed herself.

Duque testified she and Manuel were going to meet each other and walk home when Allianic attacked them.

She said she was coming home from Rob’s Good Times Grill and had spoken to Allianic, her former boyfriend, and had just told him she was pregnant with Manuel’s baby.

Allianic was angry, she said. Shortly after, she met Manuel, however, Allianic followed them. A fight ensued and a knife was drawn, she testified. During the fight, she claims she was stabbed. Duque and Manuel left Allianic to seek help, she claims.

The doctor who did the autopsy on Allianic ruled it a homicide, but testified that if Allianic would have gotten medical attention, he might have survived.

Manuel’s trial is set for May 2 before Judge Randal Valenciano.

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