LIHU‘E — With a dislocated jaw and several missing teeth, still traumatized from a violent incident just days earlier, Konstantinos Sarras was not about to miss the appointment of his life — his naturalization interview in Honolulu.
The 33-year-old Greek is an employee of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ “Pride of America” ship. He was beaten in a brawl at Anchor Cove Mall on July 15. He was just completing his second full contract with NCL and looked forward to putting his MBA to work as an American citizen.
“I did not really feel all the excitement during my greatest day in life so far because of my injuries,” Sarras said.
Recalling the infamous night, Sarras said it all began with the pleasant knowledge that he would have an unanticipated full-day of free time. This is unusual for waiters on a busy ship, he said, as they can work for weeks without an extended break.
With Lihu‘e as his home port, Sarras said the overnights at Nawiliwili each Thursday are often the only time off the ship and he considers Kaua‘i his home away from home.
In the past he said the crew tended to frequent Nawiliwili Tavern, which is closed last month. They now hang out at the “umbrellas” area of the nearby parking lot before dancing at Portofino’s.
There are some troublemakers in the crew, he said, but more mischievous than violent. At times the crew is loud and has “caused some damage,” but he noted the threat of immediate dismissal does tend to temper behavior.
Wanting to spend time off the ship and say his good-byes to friends on the final days of his contract, Sarras left the ship but said he avoided the heavy drinking at the parking lot. Most of the crew had just left the ship around 10:30 p.m. and it was now close to midnight.
After visiting the taco stand and walking to the ABC store to find that it was closed, Sarras returned to his friends and noticed that two young men without shirts, “one with a tattoo of a half moon of letters on his chest,” were arguing with crew near the dumpster in the corner of the parking lot.
“They were using the word ‘haole,’ and it was becoming obvious things were going to get tense,” he said. “I walked by and before a second or two a swarm of more young locals came attacking forcibly and violently against crew.”
Some of the crew fought back, but said around five more individuals came into the fray and that it was turning brutal against the crew. Many of them suffered injuries to their eyes and ribs, and one person was kicked repeatedly in the knee by someone wearing boots.
“Girls were attacked too,” he said. “Despite defensive hits received from certain crew, they seemed oblivious to pain — which inclines me to believe they were under the influence of drugs, probably meth.”
Things got blurry for Sarras at that point.
“I turned my head around towards the crew that was trying to escape and, right then, I felt a bottle hit my face very, very hard,” he said. “I kneeled down and saw blood dripping down like water from a faucet onto my shoes and ground.”
He recalls trying to remove pieces of teeth from his mouth and stop the bleeding. A friend handed him a shirt to use as a bandage as other crew were chased down the harbor road.
An ambulance arrived not long after he was injured, and before the police arrived, but Sarras was carried back to the ship by his friends.
“I could not speak myself. I followed them,” he said. “Some officers showed up and asked questions. No one trusted they really cared to find out anything.”
He said later that by going to the ship before the hospital might have saved his job. Others who were injured did not seek treatment for fear they would be fired.
“The next day several crew were hiding injuries under their shirts,” he added.
Sarras was given a drug test and sent to Wilcox Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. A CAT scan showed that he suffered “maxillary fracture and avulsion fracture of teeth.” They were chipped right off the upper and lower jaw, which was also loose and out of position.
He had lost a lot of blood and could not talk, so Sarras provided a written statement to the Kaua‘i Police Department and expressed concern that the officer was upset and blamed the crew for the fight.
KPD said it does not consider Sarras a suspect in the brawl but did report having a difficult time interviewing and getting statements about the incident. The report noted about 20 individuals were involved in the fight, and that Sarras and a 15 year-old male were treated at Wilcox.
Sarras was released and returned to the ship with a friend. By now it was about 4 a.m. and he waited to see the ship’s doctor about a dental surgeon. He was medically disembarked a day later.
NCL arranged for his stay in Honolulu, and for treatment at Queen’s Medical Center on July 16. He had a metal brace placed around his upper jaw on July 20, in an effort to fuse the bone and two of the remaining teeth.
“The doctor asked me if I were a man of faith. I am, indeed, a man of faith. I believe in the healing powers of God,” said Sarras. “I went to St. Constantine and Helen’s Orthodox Church in Honolulu and humbly asked the priest to pray so that my jaw bone heals strongly but, also, so that the young men who attacked us receive some light in their life.”
Sarras received two weeks medical leave and then reported back to work for a week until his 20-week contract was completed on Saturday. He received a plane ticket and left for Dallas to stay with friends while he prepares for surgery and recuperates using vacation time.
His contract was extended through Nov. 5, and Sarras said he is expected to report back for 20 weeks more work on Sept. 10. His injuries have changed his duties to have no interaction with guests.
NCL did not return telephone and email requests to learn about its reaction to the incident or to comment on the health and employment status of Sarras.
Born and raised in Athens, Greece, Sarras has lived in America for the better part of five years. He first lived in Texas, where he attended college and worked before joining “Pride of America” last September.
He hasn’t broken the news of his injuries to his family. Instead, he forced a closed-lipped smile to hide his missing teeth for his citizenship photo and shared that exciting news with them instead.
“I look like a monster and I will not heal until months, many months from now,” he said. “Still, I do not carry hatred in my heart for my attackers. I just feel a bit disappointed.”
He said the crew members work long days and share tiny three-person rooms in shifts. They pay Hawaiian income taxes and support families at home thousands of miles away.
“Please, protect the crew of the “Pride of America” as everyone loves Hawai‘i,” he said. “They go back to their homes and tell the best about Hawai‘i. When I go to Greece, all my friends, relatives and friends of friends will ask me about Hawai‘i. What am I supposed to tell them? Maybe, at least, my story will help bring this issue to public consciousness.”
• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or by emailing tlaventure@ thegardenisland.com.