Saturday, August 14, 1999

State of Hawaii

Bill for hiking rescue
less than state sought

By Debra Barayuga


Two hikers cited for hiking into Maakua Gulch despite signs indicating the trail was closed because of hazardous conditions were ordered to pay $118 for rescue costs incurred by state Land Department personnel.

The state was seeking in excess of $8,000 from Adrian Aiu, 25, of Salt Lake, Roy Brewer, 25, of Laie, and three visitors after a member of their hiking party broke his leg and had to be flown out by helicopter.

Restitution was part of the sentence imposed last month on Aiu and Brewer, who both pleaded no contest to entering a prohibited area.

District Judge Christopher P. McKenzie yesterday denied most of the amount sought by the state, noting that at least half was for wages for on-duty Fire Department personnel who would have been paid regardless of whether or not they participated in the rescue, said Tae Kim, attorney for Brewer.

The court called it a "policy issue," and said people should not be deterred from seeking help if they are in trouble. People might hesitate to call for help if they knew they could be billed for rescue costs, Kim said.

The party had hiked into the valley a week after Sacred Falls and nearby trails were declared off limits by the state because of a freak landslide that killed eight people and injured 50 others on May 9.

Deputy Prosecutor Guy Matsunaga argued that the hikers deliberately ignored signs and entered a prohibited area and should be held responsible for costs incurred in the rescue. He also argued that the rescue tied up resources that could have been needed elsewhere.

Kim argued that the Honolulu Police Department and federal government which provided the helicopter at $3,000 per hour did not seek reimbursement for their services.

In his decision, the judge agreed that the injured party, Zachary Billings, 30, of Phoenix, should be the one billed for a $450 ambulance tab.

Brewer took responsibility for his actions by not contesting the charge and putting himself at the mercy of the court, Kim said. "He's glad its over."

As part of the court's deferred acceptance of their no-contest pleas, Aiu and Brewer must stay out of trouble for six months and pay the restitution ordered. If they comply, the charges will be wiped from their records.

Billings and his two brothers, Robert and Benjamin of Salt Lake City, have yet to be prosecuted.

The state will continue to go after individuals who deliberately ignore signs posted in potentially hazardous areas, said Gary Moniz, acting administrator for the Conservation and Resources Enforcement Division of the state Land Department.

Four California visitors have since been cited for entering Sacred Falls, which remains closed indefinitely.

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