Big Island bus thief gets 5 years in prison

HILO (AP) — A Hawaii man accused of stealing two Big Island mass transit buses and taking them on joyrides was sentenced to five years in prison.

Kawelo Nakamura, 22, was sentenced Wednesday after pleading no contest in May to charges that included theft, reckless endangering, criminal property damage and unauthorized control of a stolen vehicle, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported .

Nakamura stole a Hele-On bus from the former mass transit base yard in Hilo on Aug. 5, 2017. He sideswiped a car and was later arrested, authorities said.

While Nakamura was on supervised release, he took a 42-passenger bus on Aug. 27, 2017. He drove through a closed gate and cruised along the Hamakua Coast.

Officers chased him but the pursuit was called off after Nakamura forced a police car off the road, authorities said. The bus was abandoned in a parking lot the next morning and Nakamura was found nearby.

“When you steal a bus or a tank and you take it out on the highway, and you’re not qualified to operate it, you’re not a good candidate for probation,” Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville told the court. “And then, when you do it a second time when you’re out on the first one, it sort of just tells the state that prison is appropriate.”

Deputy Public Defender Zachary Wingert argued for probation, saying Nakamura needed to pursue “treatment for his addiction and mental health issues.”

Nakamura apologized in court and requested probation, saying he would seek help.

“One year ago, I was young and didn’t know what I was doing,” Nakamura said. “Being in jail has taught me a lot. It’s taught me to be a more respective person and more responsible person and take things that I’ve done more personally.”

Judge Greg Nakamura, who is not related to the defendant, denied the probation request, saying he posed “pretty significant danger to the public and to the police.”