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Wednesday, January 3, 2001

death spark talk
of fireworks ban

Cayetano wants Oahu to be
a safe haven; others say
beefed up enforcement
is the key


By Rod Ohira and Gordon Y.K. Pang

It's a crime for the public to possess aerial fireworks in Hawaii.

So who's to blame for the death of 81-year-old Lillian Herring, whose Palolo Valley home was likely set ablaze by an aerial?

And who is to blame for setting off the large rocket that landed on the roof and set an Aiea Heights home on fire?

In both cases, the victim residents weren't playing with fireworks.

Herring's death and $374,000 in estimated structural damage caused by fireworks have raised serious concerns again about illegal fireworks on Oahu.

Gov. Ben Cayetano supports a fireworks ban on Oahu. "The density that we have here makes it very, very dangerous to continue to have fireworks," Cayetano said.

Referring to the 2000 fireworks bill, which closed some loopholes by making possession of more than 25 pounds of illegal aerials a Class-C felony, the governor noted: "If it's illegal, then you just need to enforce the law. Even if you probably can't apprehend and arrest everyone who commits a violation, you set a few examples by going after people. I think this year there's going to be a person who will be the first charged with a new law which imposes a felony offense."

But Mayor Jeremy Harris said a total ban is not the answer.

"The key is to keep the aerial fireworks out of Hawaii," Harris said. "It's very tough once you get them into Hawaii and in the communities and the black market set-ups, to stop them."

For the record, Honolulu police responded to 1,122 fireworks-related calls for service from Dec. 26 to yesterday, compared with 2,595 during the same period one year ago.

A year ago, police arrested 10 adults and seven juveniles for fireworks offenses and issued 27 citations. This year, they arrested one adult and one juvenile and issued nine citations.

"I've always said we need a total ban," Police Chief Lee Donohue said.

"You can't expect 2,000 police officers to police this whole island on a night when the skies are just erupting out there and then have to answer all the other calls for service."

Palolo Valley resident Barbara Ikeda fearfully watched New Year's aerial fireworks play in her neighborhood.

"What worries me is this 55-year-old wooden roof," Ikeda said, referring to her 10th Avenue home. "The sky was exploding, the weather was dry, my roof is termite eaten. One spark is all it would take."

Ikeda tried several times this year to report specific incidents and addresses of people she saw setting off illegal aerials in her neighborhood. But no police officer responded, she said.

"I don't blame the policemen," she said. "There just has to be more enforceable laws. Maybe we should put it on the ballot and let people have their say."

State Sen. Matt Matsunaga (D, Waialae-Palolo) said last year's new law and new permit process can make a difference.

"The solution is we need to step up enforcement," Matsunaga said. "The whole point for giving county funds (from the permits) is to beef up enforcement."

City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura says a total ban on fireworks on Oahu may be the only way to control illegal fireworks.

"We need a little bit more in the enforcement not on New Year's Day, but prior, when this stuff is coming in on our ships and being sold illegally," Yoshimura said.

The Fire Department responded to 83 fireworks-related incidents on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. For the same period last year, the total was 97. It was 56 in 1997-98.

Four structure fires this year caused an estimated $374,000 in damages. Last year's 11 structure fires resulted in $12,800 in damage.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
The Honolulu Police Department displays some of the
illegal aerial fireworks seized from a Pacific
Palisades home on Friday.

Confiscated cache
includes a bevy of
illegal aerials

Star-Bulletin staff

"Air Thunder," "Power Rockets," "Chicago Gangster (made in China)," "Flying Garden Swallow" and "Lucky Space Rocket" were among the fireworks -- including many illegal aerials -- seized by police and put on display yesterday.

They were confiscated Friday night at an Amokemoke Street home in Pacific Palisades in Pearl City.

The display at the Police Training Academy at 93-092 Waipahu Depot St. was arranged to show the variety of explosives seized and included almost all of the 1,800 pounds or so recovered, police said.

A 39-year-old man was arrested for having the fireworks at his home.

Possessing more than 25 pounds of illegal fireworks is a Class C felony under Hawaii law. It carries a possible penalty of up to a $10,000 fine or imprisonment of up to five years or both.

"He didn't have a permit," said Sgt. Derek Hanzawa of the Specialized Services Division bomb squad. "Fireworks powder is the most dangerous type," Sgt. Hanzawa said. It's very unstable, he said.

Police entered the home where the fireworks were stored at about 8 p.m. Friday. The arrested man was taken to Pearl City Police Station and later released, pending further investigation.

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