By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Police say they’re investigating several leads they’ve received about eight reported residential burglaries in Keaukaha on Saturday night or early Sunday morning during the tsunami evacuation.
“We’ve questioned several individuals,” Police Capt. Robert Wagner of South Hilo Patrol said Wednesday afternoon. “We have some persons of interest but no suspects yet.”
Police said the burglaries all occurred on Kalanianaole Avenue, the main thoroughfare in and out of the coastal Hilo neighborhood. Two of the burglary reports came from the Hale Moana condominiums while the remainder were from single-family homes.
Police said that the burglars targeted cash, jewelry and other items of value.
Don Moody, a Kalanianaole Avenue resident whose home wasn’t burglarized, has spoken to several neighbors who were victimized.
“I think everybody believes it’s an inside job, someone who lives in the community,” he said. “You can’t drive in. When the tsunami thing happened, they really cleaned the streets, and nobody could drive in. So somebody chose not to leave. I was told there were lots of people at the end of the road who didn’t leave.”
Moody said that one neighbor, a woman, had her lingerie drawers ransacked, as well as her bathroom, and believes the culprits were “looking for drugs” and other valuables. He said that among the items stolen from the neighbors were a bicycle and weed-eater.
“It was probably somebody with a truck who believed they were acting with impunity,” he said. “They were sure that there was nobody around.”
One victim, who asked that his name not be used, has been in his home for almost 40 years. He said that a 32-inch flat screen TV, two pairs of binoculars, a chain saw and hunting knife were among the items taken.
“We don’t fully know what (was taken),” the man said.
The man said he and his wife evacuated at about 9:15 p.m. Saturday night and didn’t return home until about 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
“We’re having conversations with our neighbors. Many of them have not been broken in, but they have information from others who had,” he said. “… And they said some of the people came back at 3 o’clock in the morning on Sunday morning and we came back at 7:30. But the people who came back at 3, the burglaries had already occurred. So there’s some question as to when it happened.”
The man said the thieves gained entrance through a screen door.
“We didn’t use the regular door because we just rushed out,” he said. “The back screen door has a lock on it. And the front door was just with one of those hasps, and that was broken. That’s where they gained entrance, was the front door.”
He said no money appeared to be missing, and added that the burglars were apparently able to go through his and his wife’s belongings in a leisurely manner.
“We have a two-bedroom home and they were able to take their time and go through the things,” he said. “Things were piled up on the bed and some chests of drawers, they dumped them.
“My wife had some jewelry in boxes and they were just scattered on the bed and gone through.” Asked if any jewelry was taken the man replied: “We don’t know. I don’t think she remembers what was in those boxes. But she doesn’t think any jewelry was taken.
“We took the (valuables) with us.”
He said they also took the family dog.
“It probably would have been a deterrent knowing the dog was in the house, but we couldn’t leave the dog knowing there might be a tsunami,” he said. “Someone told us they left a light on and we did not, and somebody told us they had an extra car there, and we took both of our cars.”
Another victim, a woman who also requested anonymity, said her hidden house key was stolen and she has changed the locks to her home. She said the thieves — whom she referred to as “vultures waiting for whatever they can get” — stole some silver coins, but left computers and other valuables.
“It looked to me like they were in a hurry,” she said. “There were so many things they didn’t mess with.”
The woman said she returned immediately after the all-clear signal was given at around 1:15 a.m. Sunday and there were no police checkpoints remaining on Kalanianaole.
“There was a whole parade of people driving back,” she said.
Police are investigating each report as a “burglary of a dwelling during a civil defense emergency,” which is a Class A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Anyone with information about these burglaries — or anyone who didn’t evacuate and saw suspicious persons in the area — is asked to call Sgt. James Correa at 961-2289 or the police non-emergency line at 935-3311. Those who prefer anonymity may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300 and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.