A caravan of Maui police cars and black sport utility vehicles was sighted near Oprah Winfrey's house in Kula on Sunday morning, local residents said, fueling speculation that first lady Michelle Obama is visiting the island.
Upcountry resident Paul Meyer said that he was riding his bike around 8 a.m. on Thompson Road when he saw the entourage of cars.
"There were two (Maui) police cars in front and back with their flashers on and four big black SUVs with heavy tinted windows," Meyer said. "And then there was a van toward the end of the group - they went by pretty fast."
A military cargo plane is seen parked at Kahului Airport on Saturday afternoon
LENIE LAWRENCE photo
A dark SUV with bicycles attached to the back of it leaves Kahului Airport on Saturday afternoon. Makawao resident Lenie Lawrence said that three SUVs and several smaller vehicles were unloaded from a military cargo plane.
LENIE LAWRENCE photo
Meyer, who has lived in the area for 30 years, said that he rides his bike on the road whenever he has time but was stopped on his route by a group of police officers and "Secret Service agents."
"Two young guys were there and Maui police officers, and they said the road is going to be closed for the next week," Meyer said. "I asked, 'Is Michelle Obama in town?' and the policeman just nodded."
President Barack Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha returned to the White House on Sunday after a two-week vacation on Oahu. The Associated Press reported Sunday that the first lady was staying in the islands to spend time with friends ahead of her upcoming 50th birthday. However, there has been no official confirmation of her whereabouts by the Maui Police Department, Kahului Airport officials or the White House.
The first lady's office did not respond to a request for information Sunday.
A receptionist with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters declined to be identified but said that she saw a "smaller sized" plane with the words "United States of America" on it land at Kahului Airport on Sunday morning. She said that plane was not a US Airways or United Airlines flight. It stopped in a secluded area of the airport and was too far away for the woman to see who got off of it.
Lenie Lawrence of Makawao said that he saw tinted, black SUVs on Saturday afternoon after they were transported via a giant military plane to Kahului Airport. He was at Savers with his wife when he saw the plane fly overhead and then drove to the airport to get a better look at the plane.
"When I saw the flaps extended all the way down I knew it was going to land because that's the only way to slow that monster down," said Lawrence, an airplane enthusiast. "One of the reasons is because it's probably flying at max capacity - with that many vehicles in the plane. I knew that they were going to touch down."
The transport plane landed at around 5:45 p.m. and unloaded three SUVs and a couple of minivans and small cars, Lawrence said. He said that more than 20 people who appeared to be with the Secret Service or the military exited the plane, and that one of the SUVs had a bicycle rack with several bikes attached.
Although Meyer welcomed the first lady to Maui, he said that the road closure "seemed unnecessary."
"A dozen to 20 people bike up that road and stop for coffee at (Grandma's Coffee House)," he said. "It's just a wonderful place because there's hardly any traffic on the road, so the closure just feels like a needless imposition."
A Kula resident who declined to give his name said that he walks with his wife every morning on the road but also was stopped Sunday by a group of "men in uniforms with bomb-sniffing dogs."
"They said, 'You can't go up here . . . and that we're Secret Service and there's a protected person inside,'" the man said. "I'm 99 percent sure Michelle Obama is there. They wouldn't be protecting Oprah Winfrey with Secret Service."
Over the past year or so, Winfrey has installed security gates, fences and cameras throughout her properties, the man said. In 2004, Winfrey bought about 1,000 acres of Haleakala Ranch land, which included an 11-room bed-and-breakfast on 17 acres in Kula. She also owns more than 200 acres of coastal land in Hana.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.