PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Officers with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) on Monday arrested two guides who they say were involved in leading tours into the state Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve and Kahaualea Natural Area Reserve.
DLNR says the two face charges for prohibited entry into closed areas and for engaging in illegal commercial activities on DLNR-managed lands.
Officers conducted an undercover operation which resulted in the arrest of Matthew Hoeflinger, 50, of Keaau, and Christa Nicholas, 23, of Mountain View. Hoeflinger and Nicholas were charged with the following:
Reckless endangering in the 2nd degree; conducting illegal commercial activities within a forest reserve; entering a closed area within a natural area reserve; and conducting illegal commercial activities within a natural area reserve, all of which are misdemeanor offenses. They are also being charged with trespassing in the 2nd degree; entering a closed area in a forest reserve, which area petty misdemeanor offenses.
Hoeflinger and Nicholas were taken to the Pahoa Police Station for booking and were released on their own recognizance.
Hawaii News Now has also learned that Hoeflinger is also a Hawaii County firefighter who has been with HFD, based out of the Pahala Station, for 14 years. HFD's fire chief said he would remain on the job because he's only facing misdemeanor charges.
Entry into closed lands is a violation of Hawaii Administrative Rule Sec. 13-221-4 and Hawaii Revised Statute 171-6, and is subject of penalty up to $5,000 for the first offense.
“DLNR intends to prosecute any trespassers who willfully violate the closures and place enforcement officers and emergency personnel at increased risk,” said William J. Aila,Jr., DLNR chairperson.
Signs have been posted at various access points warning the public of the hazardous conditions.