Tour boat damaged in suspected arson

KOLOA — Vandals using gasoline and fireworks inflicted serious damage to the single boat belonging to Kaua‘i Sea Rider Adventures yesterday morning, paralyzing the tour company and demoralizing owner and captain Tara Leota.

“It’s a very difficult time for tourism as it is, so to feel like you can’t run (your tours) … I’m trying not to get choked up,” she said. “For me it’s my livelihood. I don’t know how I’m going to recover from this. It’s very difficult. … Kaua‘i never used to be like that.”

The 24-foot Zodiac “Hurricane,” used for snorkel tours out of Kukui‘ulu Boat Harbor but housed on a trailer at the company’s headquarters on Weliweli Road in Koloa, had a large hole burned in its front sponson, the inflated rubber part that helps the boat maintain buoyancy and stability, and will be unable to return to the water for some time.

Damage could have been much worse, Leota said, had Bryan Freitas of neighboring waste management business Trashco not noticed the fire and put it out before county fire fighters arrived on the scene.

According to a preliminary report from county spokeswoman Mary Daubert, Freitas arrived at work at roughly 4:10 a.m., first tried to put the fire out with his slippers before using the extinguisher to successfully quench the flames. Firefighters arrived at roughly 4:40 a.m., she said.

“They deserve a thank you for watching out for your neighbor,” Leota said. “He was awesome and caught it early. (Without him,) it probably would have gotten to my fuel tanks and fuel lines and gone up in flames. The whole boat could have gone up.”

Leota said she believed the fire was started intentionally because an empty gas can and used fireworks were found at the scene and that the area smelled strongly of gasoline. However, she could not think of any reason for someone to want to burn her boat.

“I choose to believe that they didn’t know who I was. I’m not big potatoes, I am struggling like anyone else,” she said. “I don’t believe it’s anybody in my field or that I have any enemies. I have to do that for my spirit and my soul, because otherwise you’re paranoid.”

Daubert said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Leota said she had the boat insured for $95,000, but the policy does not cover arson. Getting the sponson fixed, which could cost thousands of dollars, may put Leota into bankruptcy.

Tanya Stott, a close friend and neighbor, said Leota is a single mother who “does a lot of good,” including taking disabled children out on the water and volunteering to take area students on whale watches.

“She’s just a saint,” Stott said of Leota. “She’s one of the most selfless people I know. Everyone who knows her would say nothing but good things about her.”

Stott said she arranged to have the Koloa Federal Credit Union accept donations in Leota’s name.

“It’s going to take a lot of money to get this fixed, it’s her livelihood, it’s food for her kids and her mortgage. It’s not just a bummer, it’s a really big deal. She’s just overwhelmed,” Stott said. “I’m hoping the community will come together for her. I know how generous Kauaians can be.”

• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at mlevine@kauaipubco.com

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