Reward offered in Big Island papaya vandalism case

Published: Jul. 20, 2011 at 9:50 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 20, 2011 at 11:08 PM HST
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Wayne Ogasawara
Wayne Ogasawara

By Lisa Kubota - bio | email

PUNA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some Big Island farmers spent the day cleaning up their ruined papaya fields. A reward is now being offered to help solve the costly crime. Erlinda Bernardo and her husband are devastated by the deliberate damage to their precious papaya crop in Puna. She estimates that they lost 3,000 trees that were loaded with fruit.

"I couldn't hold my tears. I was crying an I was crying inside, too. So devastating to see what happened," said Bernardo.

Police said the trees appear to have been chopped down with a machete. Two adjoining fields belonging to other growers were also vandalized.

"It's not good to pinpoint anybody. Right now we don't have any suspects," said Bernardo.

"It sets them back tremendously and some of them probably have borrowed money to put that kind of crops in the ground, and they're banking on that kind of an income to pay it off and of course pay themselves," said Wayne Ogasawara, manager of Mililani Agricultural Park.

The vandalism comes a year after a similar incident at a farm a couple of miles away. The grower lost more than 8,000 trees on 17 acres of land. On Oahu, the owner of a Mililani farm found 400 of his papaya trees ruined in May 2010. Both cases are still unsolved.

Security is a top priority at the Mililani Agricultural Park. The property surrounded by two gulches and several homes. There is only one way in and out. The park pays for a guard stationed at the entrance.

"Most farmers, their boundaries are so vast, it would be impossible to cover it. There would be so many points of entry. It becomes a very difficult and expensive proposition," explained Ogasawara.

Ogasawara said there haven't been problems at the 500-acre park, but he is saddened to hear about all the recent crimes involving crops.

"Way back, we haven't heard of anything like that. There might have been people stealing a few fruits and what not, but not on this kind of scale," said Ogasawara.

"I hope they realize that what they did is very painful and that they should not being doing this anymore to any grower," said Bernardo.

CrimeStoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for tips leading to a conviction. The Hawaii Papaya Industry Association has also raised more than $2,000 in additional reward money.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Acting Lieutenant Reed Mahuna at 961-2252. Those who want to remain anonymous can call CrimeStoppers at 961-8300 in Hilo or 329-8181 in Kona.

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