By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
While the recent spate of burglaries have Big Island residents and businesses taking action to protect their property, several smaller break-ins could have had immediate dire consequences for public safety.
A number of East Hawaii lifeguard towers have been broken into — some more than once — in the past couple of months, according to county Ocean Safety Capt. John Baehr.
On Aug. 2, lifeguards discovered that four Keaukaha beach parks — Onekahakaha, Carlsmith, Leleiwi and Richardson — had been hit by a thief or thieves the previous night or in the early morning hours, he said.
“In one tower, we had a first aid kit, an oxygen bottle … and an AED (automated external defibrillator),” Baehr said. “Normally, we don’t leave that stuff in the tower, but we were doing that at that time at the one tower (Richardson), the seven-day-a-week one. We don’t do that at the other ones.” He added that binoculars were also stolen from all four towers.
Baehr added that while lifeguards at the other towers also keep oxygen and defibrillators handy, procedures at those beaches were to bring those items to work daily and to store them elsewhere at the end of the work day. As a result of those thefts, binoculars, first-aid kits, oxygen and defibrillators are no longer stored in any of the towers at night, a move Baehr called “a no-brainer.”
Baehr didn’t have a hard figure on the monetary loss but estimated it at “about $1,500.”
“The worst thing is that we have to replace our equipment and that’s going to cost the Fire Department and the county,” he explained. “… It is kind of a morale thing, you know. Lifeguards are public safety first responders. … You’re trying to do a job and you have to deal with this kind of mentality. It leaves the guards feeling a little down, because it’s like, wow, these people just don’t care. We’re just there to help people.”
A felony theft investigation was opened for the Richardson break-in, while misdemeanor theft investigations were opened for the incidents at the other three beaches.
Baehr said he believes the thieves used bolt cutters, but Police Lt. Greg Esteban of the Criminal Investigations Section said nothing in the police reports indicate the locks were recovered, so how they were breached remains a mystery at this point. He added that no arrests have been made and police have not yet identified a suspect or suspect.
“A lot of these (towers) are off the road, especially Richardson’s,” Esteban said. “They provide concealment for the suspect.”
Since then, there have been additional tower break-ins, as well.
On the night of Sept. 11 or early morning of Sept. 12, the locks at the towers at Carlsmith, Leleiwi and Richardson parks were again breached, and the same thing happened at Honolii Beach Park just north of Hilo on either Friday night or early Saturday morning. Criminal property damage reports have been filed with police. By then, water safety officials had stopped storing the rescue gear in the towers, but again, the county had to pay to replace the damaged locks.
“This is the second set of locks and we’re upgrading those to something a little heavier duty,” Baehr said.
The recent incidents are not the first time this year an East Hawaii lifeguard tower has been the target of a thief or thieves. In April, a megaphone was stolen from the tower at Ahalanui Beach Park, also known as “Warm Pond” in Kapoho.
“The tower was open,” Baehr said. “The guard went away on patrol and they brazenly went in there in daylight hours when the guard, I guess, had his back turned.”
Esteban said the thefts display a “total disregard for life.”
“If someone needed that defibrillator and it’s not available,” he said and paused to let the possible life-or-death ramifications sink in.
Added Baehr: “It’s just like someone who throws a bottle into the water and it breaks. It could be their own kids who are playing in there and get their feet cut. Anytime there’s an action, there’s gonna be a reaction. There’s always some repercussions. So to me, those individuals could either be beach users or not, that’s speculation, but the chances are good that they know someone or might know someone down there who needs help, or it could be them — and that equipment isn’t there for them.”
Anyone with information about the break-ins, the stolen equipment or the identities of those responsible is asked to call Esteban at 961-2252.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.