WAILUKU - When Leslie and Dakota Kalawaia were awakened as room lights were flicked on and off early one morning in their Kahului home, they at first didn't realize there was a stranger in the house.
The couple didn't get a good look at a large naked man who ran out of Dakota Kalawaia's bedroom past Leslie Kalawaia and pushed through the living room screen door. "We were both shocked," Leslie Kalawaia said. "I was just worried about her."
But after chasing the intruder as he ran through the garage and jumped over a side wall, Leslie Kalawaia took note of the license plate of the van that the man got into before it "dug out" from the front of a neighbor's house on Kuula Street. He yelled out the license plate letters and numbers to his wife, telling her to call 911.
Maui police Lt. Wayne Ibarra (left) and officer Ernest Grace are shown near a Neighborhood Crime Watch sign at Maui Lani in Wailuku.
The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo
Leslie and Dakota Kalawaia stand under a plumeria tree in the backyard of their home on Kuula Street in Kahului. They were victims of a home invasion in July 2009. However, they reported the intruder’s license plate number to police, and officers were able to find and apprehend the suspect, who was implicated in a home invasion spree in Kahului.
The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo
The Kalawaias' call at about 5 a.m. July 7, 2009, reporting the license plate number of the van, led to the arrest later that day of a man implicated in a home invasion spree in Kahului, said Lt. Wayne Ibarra, who was working as the patrol district commander at the time.
Now commander of the police Community Relations Section, Ibarra cited the couple's actions as one of the successes of Neighborhood Crime Watch programs. Police have helped residents organize about 170 of the groups on Maui to look out for and report suspicious activity.
Police are hoping to expand on such efforts by providing information on residential burglaries and vehicle thefts and break-ins in Maui County to be published each Monday in The Maui News. The information, including dates, times and street locations of the crimes, will be from the weeklong period starting two weeks earlier so that the majority of such crime reports will be included.
Police Chief Gary Yabuta said the Maui Police Department is committed to providing the information as part of its goals and objectives "to enhance our relationships with the community."
Officer Ernest Grace of the Community Relations Section is using MPD's new computer system to compile the information.
"The technology we spent a lot of money on is to extract information, possibly pinpoint problems in crime and allocate our resources accordingly," Yabuta said. "To make it work, the community has to know what's going on in their own community."
He said property crimes, which are often associated with drug problems, are one of the main concerns on the island.
"The community should know what type of crime and problems are happening exactly and accurately in their particular community, and we have the obligation of doing something about it," Yabuta said.
For both residents and tourists, "it's our job to inform them where the threats are so we can reduce the risk," Yabuta said.
"We're trying to tell these communities, 'Your biggest strength is your numbers. If you unify, if you join together and work together, it reduces the workload on each individual person.' And collectively, they can fight crime by being a work force and working with us."
The first installment of the feature in the newspaper will be Monday.
"The Maui News is pleased to offer this weekly feature as a service to the people of Maui," said David Hoff, the newspaper's editor in chief. "Readers have long been asking us to provide more news about where and when these types of crimes are happening around Maui, but until now we didn't have an efficient method to technologically gather that information from the Police Department reports and get it into the newspaper."
He said The Maui News and MPD had been discussing the process for months before finally coming up with a procedure that works for both parties.
"MPD deserves credit. They listened to the issues we raised and kept working to solve them," Hoff said. "The real beneficiaries from all this, however, will be the residents of Maui who will be more aware of criminal activities occurring in or near their community, and can join with their neighbors and police in taking steps to reduce or prevent them."
Ibarra said that while police are providing the information to increase public awareness about criminal activity, people shouldn't view the information as representing a spike in crime.
But by being more aware of criminal activity, people can take measures to try to prevent crime, Ibarra said.
One crime prevention measure is the Neighborhood Crime Watch program, which calls on residents to get involved by reporting suspicious activity without putting themselves in jeopardy, he said.
Ibarra noted that the Kalawaias, who are involved in the Neighborhood Crime Watch on Kuula Street, kept to those guidelines when their home was burglarized by following the suspect at a safe distance and calling police to report what happened.
After reporting the burglary, the couple learned that the suspect had gotten into their house through an open kitchen window, managing to enter without disrupting a dish rack filled with dishes on the counter. The intruder went from room to room, quickly turning on and off the light in each room, apparently to try to see who was in each room, the Kalawaias said.
Leslie Kalawaia, who had pushed the snooze button on his alarm when it went off at 4:30 a.m., said he thought it was his wife checking on him when the light was turned on and off in the bedroom where he was sleeping.
Dakota Kalawaia, a light sleeper who was in another bedroom with a breathing machine, said she thought it was her husband when she felt someone touching her as she lay in bed.
But then Leslie Kalawaia got out of bed and went down the hallway to the bathroom, turning on the light and noticing the door ajar to his wife's bedroom. He saw someone standing on the side of the bed next to his wife. She had opened her eyes when the light went on and saw her husband standing by the doorway while someone else stood behind the door.
"My husband looked behind the door, that's when he bolted and ran down the hallway," Dakota Kalawaia said. "That's when I realized it was a stranger."
After talking to police officers who showed up at the home, the Kalawaias learned that break-ins had occurred starting at 2 that morning at three other Kahului homes where women had been able to wake their husbands for help when they were sexually touched by an intruder.
The Kalawaias said they had seen the van that fled from their home in the neighborhood before.
Police said the vehicle was registered to a relative of Solomone Mahe, who lived on Maalo Street in Kahului and was arrested for the break-ins that morning. Mahe also was linked by DNA testing to a sexual assault and break-in that occurred in October 2008 at another Kahului home, according to court records.
Earlier this year, the 33-year-old was sentenced to a 25-year prison term after pleading no contest to multiple burglary and sexual assault charges.
The Kalawaias said they want to see more of their neighbors get involved in the Neighborhood Crime Watch on their street, which borders Kamalii Park.
"There's a lot of people that live here - when something happens, they look the other way," Leslie Kalawaia said. "I don't know if it's fear of retaliation or what. When it happens to them, then it's a different story. Other neighbors, they don't do anything. We call the cops right away."
"I know everybody works, they don't have time," said Dakota Kalawaia, who is block captain for the Neighborhood Crime Watch. "But they should put in an effort. We take it seriously.
"It'll work if everybody gets involved," Leslie Kalawaia said.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.