Thursday, February 11, 1999

Kauai’s Council
is fed up with
derelict vehicles

By Anthony Sommer


LIHUE, Kauai -- Three years and 3,000 abandoned vehicles after the last commercial junk yard on the island locked its gates forever, the Kauai County Council has asked the police to get tough on residents who have littered the Garden Island with derelict cars.

Frustrated Council members yesterday asked Police Chief George Freitas to work with the county prosecutors to convince the Kauai Circuit Court to impose stiffer penalties.

Freitas said although state law calls for a fine of up to $1,000 for abandoning a junk vehicle along a public road, Kauai's courts have routinely imposed a $150 fine.

The police chief said he also would like the Council's blessing to go after owners of the junk cars for the cost of a police officer investigating the abandonment and for the county's costs to tow and process the car. That may require a lawsuit if they fail to pay the bill, he noted.

Kauai County will spend at least $400,000 this year to haul in and process abandoned vehicles. It has a contract with a private firm to recover the vehicles, drain them of all potentially harmful fluids and deliver them to a Puhi facility where, ultimately, they will be crushed and sent to Oahu scrap yards.

Council Chairman Ron Kouchi promised Freitas that any money he recovered would go back to the department. The county's last commercial junk yard went out of business in January 1996 when its landlord, the state Transportation Department, shut it down for failing to pay rent.

Mayor Maryanne Kusaka has been eager to get a county-owned scrap yard open in Puhi, but she has been reluctant to prosecute the people who abandon vehicles because there has been nowhere for residents to take cars when they no longer are worth fixing.

The cars that end up being abandoned usually belong to the poorest people on the island, the mayor has said. The Puhi facility opened late last year.

Freitas told the Council that trying to track down the owner of an abandoned vehicle can be a "frustrating, time-consuming business."

Many car owners ignore a state law that requires them to file a report when they sell a vehicle, Freitas said.If the police cite the last registered owner, there is no guarantee of a stiff fine, he added.

Critics note the county requires people who want to take their junk cars to the Puhi facility must pay to have a certified mechanic drain the fluids, pay a tow truck to haul the vehicle to Puhi and take a day off of work to do it because it isn't open on weekends.

After the Council meeting, police Inspector Mel Morris noted the police can only cite vehicle owners who leave their cars along a public road. Only about a third of Kauai's junk cars are believed to be found along public roads. Most are hidden in fallow cane fields.

If a junk car is abandoned on private property, it's the property owner's problem to try to find the owner and take him to court and try to recover the cost of removing the vehicle, Morris said.

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