By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
WAILUKU, Maui — A Maui judge has dismissed the case against a 51-year-old woman who made a cozy home for herself in a lava tube in the 'Ahihi-Kina'u Natural Area Reserve.
Karen M. Rodriguez, also known as Karen Mayfield, had been living in the rugged Makena area for several months before state conservation officers cited her on Dec. 10 for three violations of state rules regarding natural area reserves. The violations were for setting up a tent or structure in the reserve, disturbing or damaging geological features, and littering. Each is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Maui County deputy prosecutor Marie Kosegarten declined to comment yesterday on why her office filed a motion Aug. 31 requesting that the charges be dismissed. She said the case was closed.
Second Circuit Judge Joel August granted the request for dismissal Thursday. Rodriguez had demanded a jury trial, which had been scheduled to start yesterday.
Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources were unavailable yesterday to comment on the dismissal.
Rodriguez's attorney, David Cain, did not return phone calls seeking comment. He had earlier likened the woman to a modern Henry David Thoreau, a 19th-century writer who believed individuals should live attuned to nature.
'Ahihi-Kina'u is a sparsely vegetated area on the dry south flank of East Maui that contains the island's most recent 'a'a lava flow. The reserve includes a marine area with anchialine pools that are home to rare native shrimps. Coastal lava tubes provide habitat for native cave animals and were used by Hawaiians as sacred burial sites.
Although Rodriguez apparently is no longer living in the lava tube, about 12 feet from a trail, the woman was spotted at the site over the weekend and continues to store her belongings there, according to several people who frequent the area. They said it appears she brought even more things to the cave.
Pat Borge, who owns Makena Stables, reported Rodriguez's encampment to conservation officers last year, and said yesterday that he saw her in the area two days ago. He said her actions are "disrespectful" and that he was disappointed to learn that charges were dropped.
"I don't think she should be out there," Borge said. "Rules are rules. If you break the rules you've got to pay the price."
He said he feels like he wasted his time as a witness in the case, even having to close his business on days when he was needed in court. He said authorities are sending the wrong message to citizens.
"The state wants people to help them manage these areas, and then they waste my time," he said. "Why should I get involved in any other matters?"
According to court records, conservation officers who inspected the lava tube found a table, a bed, carpets, empty bird cages, wall decorations, tiki torches, a butane camp stove, dishes, wind chimes, hanging crystals and other belongings. A makeshift outhouse, complete with toilet seat, had been set up in a lava field.
There were also excavation tools and evidence Rodriguez had chipped and dug away at rough surfaces in the lava tube.
Rodriguez could not be contacted yesterday, but in an earlier comment, she said: "I really prefer living an alternate lifestyle where I can hear the wind blow and see the stars at night."
Native Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. of Maui said he was frustrated that Rodriguez will not be prosecuted. He called for more vigilant enforcement of state park rules protecting natural and cultural areas.
"The ana (cave) for the Hawaiians is very sacred because that's where you put your dead," he said. "The Hawaiians would never do such a thing. It's the people who don't respect the Hawaiian culture."
He said ancient Hawaiians would migrate from upland areas of Haleakala where they farmed to the 'Ahihi-Kina'u coastline, staying near the ocean for half the year to fish and make salt.
Reach Christie Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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