HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Waialae Iki man accused of shooting a flare gun and starting a wildfire at Koko Head last Friday was released from Honolulu police custody Sunday afternoon, after spending two days in the main cellblock.
People who know Kevin Nakagami, 29, say they're surprised that he was arrested at all. They describe the Koko Head Shooting Complex employee as a responsible, safety-conscious guy.
"Kevin has always been very conscientious and kept the public safe," Russell Takata, Chinese Gun Club of Hawaii, said.
A flare landing in dry brush snowballed into a full-scale fire fight and rescue operation at Koko Head Friday. Regulars at the shooting complex were stunned to hear that one of the range officers was taken into police custody for allegedly starting the wildfire.
"Kevin is actually one of the better range officers," Takata said. "He's very good as far as taking care of the new shooters, as well as keeping the place safe."
Officers arrested Nakagami on suspicion of first-degree arson, after he reportedly told them that he fired the flare gun. Several hikers had to be airlifted from the trail as winds pushed the flames toward them.
"If it was a person I didn't know, I would probably say, yeah, that could happen. Stupidity, you know," Ed Masaki, Koko Head Gun Club, said. "But coming from a range officer, I would assume an accident."
"As far as being an arsonist, no," Takata said. "I don't think there's any intention on his part to start fires around the place."
The criminal investigation shut down the gun range for the entire weekend, forcing a last-minute tournament cancellation.
"It's a state tournament. We have that every October," Takata said. "We're going to have to go back and get it re-sanctioned for another weekend."
The word around the shooting complex is that someone left the flare gun behind.
People who know Nakagami say they find it hard to believe that he would deliberately fire it because range officers know what types of firearms can and cannot be used at the range.
"Once you arrested, you can not un-arrest a person," Masaki said. "Before you just go arrest a person, you better be damn sure."
Once a person is arrested, police have 48 hours to bring charges or let the person go. The 48-hour window for Nakagami was going to close at 5:30 PM Sunday.
Police say he was released at about 5:00 PM pending further investigation.
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