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Judge hands out more community service hours than state recommends for 13 hikers rescued last month

WAIMEA — A judge on Tuesday doled out a plethora of community service hours to a group of hikers cited for trespassing after they were swept away amid flash flooding, prompting a daring rescue last month at Anna’s Pond.

The 13 hikers, five women and eight men from Youth with a Mission and the University of the Nations in Kailua-Kona, each appeared before District Court Judge Mahilani EK Hiatt to answer to citations for simple trespassing in connection with the Nov. 3 incident.

Those cited following the rescue were Micah Watt, Galen Erickson, Aimee Alianza, Jonathan Emberley, Sarah V. Gali, Lucas McCann, Elin Rizell, Vilde Nyjordet, Vinicius Rodrigues Nascimento, Simon Tito Strehl, Sofie Hovda, Mikael A. Lao and Elvind Jacobsen.

Simple trespass is a violation punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. The citation, though criminal, carries no jail term.

Each of the defendants could have requested a jury trial; however, each declined, instead opting to address the matter Tuesday. All entered no contest pleas, with the exception of Jacobsen, who pleaded guilty.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Britt Bailey recommended Hiatt sentence 10 of the defendants to 20 hours of community service and three — Jacobsen, Hovda and Lao — to 40 hours of community service. Bailey identified those three in court as UN/YWAM staff members and said, thus, were more culpable.

Bailey also told each defendant that the state, landowners and rescuers hope the hikers learned something from the incident.

“We have definitely learned our lesson and realize that our actions do have consequences and we are actively wanting to do anything we can for the community to repay them,” said Alianza, who was first to face sentencing.

The court, however, was not bound by the recommendation and Hiatt issued her own sentence.

“The court is not going to accept the state’s recommendation,” the judge said. “I’m going to sentence you to 40 hours of community service and ask that you try do it up in North Hawaii.”

She continued: “I am also very thankful, I was listening to the reports on what was going on, and am very glad that there was not significant injury that occurred. Again, the fact that there was so much risk and people placed at risk to make this rescue, we can certainly commend them and I think that you have seen that the community was there for you and now you can give back to them.”

Alianza and nine others — Watt, Erickson, Emberley, Gali, McCann, Rizell, Nyjordet, Nascimento and Strehl — were each separately sentenced to 40 hours of community service.

Hiatt sentenced separately Hovda, Lao and Jacobsen to 80 hours of community service, noting the stiffer penalty was because they were UN/YWAM staff members.

“You are getting more because of your leadership role,” Hiatt told Jacobsen. Eighty hours of community service would equal an $800 fine, if converted.

Each of the defendants, with the exception of Gali, Emberley, Hovda, Nyjordet and Watt, made statements to the court, thanking their rescuers, adding they learned their lesson.

“Thank you so much for everyone that put their lives at risk to save us so we could be alive and stand here today. I learned a lot,” Lao said.

Said Jacobsen: “I definitely have learned and I am so grateful to have all of us alive today and I’m grateful to the people that helped with the rescue.”

Though Hiatt encouraged each of the 13 to perform the community service work in the North Hawaii area, she did not make that a requirement. Jacobsen was given permission to perform his community service hours in the Philippines, where he is soon headed for a mission.

The 13 hikers, two of whom suffered minor injuries, were rescued after they were stranded in a flash flood event while trespassing Nov. 3 into Parker and Anna ranches in Waimea to access Anna’s Pond. In all, 13 units were involved, including a county helicopter and two medic units and both rescue companies.

Arriving firefighters found three members of the hiking party on the west side of the mountain stream, which was fed by a waterfall. They told rescuers there was a total of 13 swimming in the stream when a flash flood occurred.

Chopper 1 found three others walking through a pasture to the north. Others were found stranded on rocks along the stream. They were airlifted to a staging area to be treated by medics. The final three hikers were found on a rock ledge behind the waterfall. Rescuers had to rappel down cliffs estimated to be 150-200 feet tall in dark, windy and rainy conditions.

The rescue, which began at 4:18 p.m., took about five hours.

Following Tuesday’s court hearings, University of the Nations spokeswoman Erica Gustafson released a written statement noting the campus is celebrating 40 years on the island, desires “to be good stewards of the land alongside our local community” and honors the local justice system and its adjudication of the matter.

“As a campus, we are beyond appreciative of each department and individual involved in the rescue that took place on November 3rd. While the group’s hike was on their day off, and not sanctioned by our campus, we do recognize this incident impacted the broader community,” Gustafson wrote.

Gustafson also said in the email that the campus welcomes new staff and students every three months and briefs “them on ways of the land, safety and respecting property, including ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘KAPU’ signage.”

“Since the incident, the leadership of our campus has personally reached out to the Hawaii Fire Department and extended their gratitude and commendation of their bravery and dedication to this island,” she wrote.

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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