HomeTop StoriesMaui County seeks to block AG interview regarding 2018 wildfires

Maui County seeks to block AG interview regarding 2018 wildfires

JAMM AQUINO / APRIL 17 As part of the August 8 Maui wildfire investigation, the Attorney General’s Department of Justice wants to question the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency about what the county has learned from the West Maui wildfires in 2018. In April, Attorney General Anne Lopez spoke about the findings of the Maui Wildfire Phase One Report, which provided a timeline of the August 8 fire response.

1 /1 JAMM AQUINO / APRIL 17 As part of the investigation into the August 8 Maui wildfire, the State Attorney General’s Office wants to question the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency about what the county has learned from the wildfires in West Maui in 2018. In April, Attorney General Anne Lopez spoke about the findings of the Maui Wildfire Phase One Report, which provided a timeline of the August 8 fire response.

Maui County officials are trying to stop the Attorney General’s Office from questioning the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency about what the county learned from the 2018 West Maui wildfires.

As part of the ongoing investigation into the August 8 firestorm that killed 101 people, destroyed the heart of Lahaina and left thousands homeless, the state issued three subpoenas on May 29 to current MEMA Administrator Amos Lonokailua- Hewett; Darryl Takeda, MEMA Emergency Response Team Manager; and Mahina Martin, communications director for Mayor Richard Bissen on August 8.

Martin was questioned by investigators for a second time after new information emerged during the first phase of the state investigation, conducted by the Fire Safety Research Institute. What that new information is and what prompted Martin’s brief second interview on June 7 will be discussed in the second phase of the findings.

“Mahina Martin and Darryl Takeda appeared for interviews pursuant to the issued subpoenas. The County of Maui filed a motion to quash the subpoena served on Amos Lonokailua-Hewett and Lonokailua-Hewett did not appear for the June 7 interview,” Toni Schwartz, public information officer for the Department of the Attorney General, told the Star-Advertiser in a statement.

A judge will ultimately determine whether Lonokailua-Hewett must submit to questioning.

The County’s Position A June 6 motion filed by David J. Minkin, attorney for McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon LLP, the firm hired by the county, noted that the state had changed its contract with FSRI from a cap of $1 .5 million to $4 million on March 19.

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The province is using a mix of attorneys, the Department of the Corporation Counsel and private contractors who have been on board since October. The county’s legal bill so far is about $750,000.

FSRI interviewed “more than 125 county employees to complete Phase 1 data collection.” Lonokailua-Hewett is the only county official ordered not to testify by counsel.

“In contrast, (FSRI) interviewed only a few representatives of the State of Hawaii and zero representatives of Hawaiian Electric Company or its subsidiaries and/or any other named defendants,” Minkin wrote.

“The County advised the Secretary of State that Administrator Lonokailua-Hewett was not an employee of the County from August 7 to 8, 2023, and that he played no role in MEMA, or in the County, leading up to or during the fire incident. Administrator Lonokailua-Hewett previously served in many capacities with the Maui Fire Department before retiring as a battalion chief in 2019. He had not served in a provincial position until he was appointed as MEMA’s new administrator on December 29, 2023. Nevertheless, the State AG served Administrator Lonokailua-Hewett on or about May 30, 2024, only to appear to testify just eight days later. on June 7, 2024,” Minkin wrote. “Although the State AG framed this technical interview for weeks as a discussion about MEMA and the Emergency Operations Center, the subpoena instead sought to question Administrator Lonokailua-Hewett about the ‘circumstances present during the 2018 Hurricane Lane fire incident on Maui, the emergency response measures’. to the incident, and any changes made after the incident by the County of Maui Department of Fire and Public Safety. ”

Looking at the 2018 fire, county officials do not believe discussions about the 2018 West Maui wildfires, which destroyed buildings and caused evacuations, are within the scope of FSRI’s research contract.

County officials previously declined to respond to questions from the Honolulu-Star-Advertiser about recommendations made in the wake of the 2018 West Maui fires.

Five years before the deadly Lahaina fire, a wildfire, fueled by 75 mph winds from Hurricane Lane, swept through the Lahaina hills in August 2018, burning 5,000 acres, destroying 30 vehicles and 21 buildings, including most houses were destroyed.

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An after-action report on the 2018 fires was only made public after a public records request related to the August 8 fires.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne E. Lopez told the Star-Advertiser in an interview that “any facts relating to anything related to Maui County are the facts we received from Maui County.”

“If there are other facts that they are aware of, we hope they will share them with us so that we are all working from the same set of facts,” Lopez said. “If we don’t have all the facts … it will potentially skew their assessment … phase two … about what worked and what didn’t work. But more importantly, it could distort phase three, which will make recommendations to state and provincial governments, to ensure this never happens again. In my opinion, that is the most important part of all of this.”

In response to a question about whether FSRI would investigate the county’s findings on the 2018 fires, recommendations from wildfire management organizations and other policies and warnings about the potential for a catastrophic fire in West Maui, Lopez warned that the FSRI investigation and the work of AG in defense of more than 200 civil lawsuits stands alone.

Multiple investigations Teams of deputy attorneys general are working with FSRI or working on the lawsuit, with Lopez directing both efforts.

“If we go back and remember the purpose of this investigation, it is to determine what actions the state and county took, when they took them and whether or not those actions worked, did not work or were not planned at all were,” Lopez said. “The idea is not to blame and point fingers. The idea is to really identify what changes need to be made so that policymakers, city councils and legislatures… can figure out where the priorities should be… as the state fights climate change and limits the potential damage caused by climate. change.”

Lopez noted that phase two of the state investigation will be an “analysis of those questions: what worked, what didn’t work, what we should have done differently, what we could have done differently, what we couldn’t have done differently.” because there was simply nothing that could be done.

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“We want to make sure we have all the facts possible so that the recommendations can be clear, complete and comprehensive,” she said.

The province is defending 401 lawsuits as of Wednesday involving 1,855 plaintiffs, 1,457 individuals and 398 business entities.

Three mediators — two retired California judges who handled complex wildfire-related lawsuits and a local mediator — are handling the stacks of civil lawsuits filed in connection with the fires.

Louis M. Meisinger and Daniel J. Buckley of Signature Resolutions, a private dispute resolution firm with offices in Los Angeles; Century City, California; Boise, Idaho; and Atlanta are handling the civil claims.

The local mediator is Keith W. Hunter, founder, president and CEO of Dispute Prevention & Resolution, Inc.

Two mediation sessions have been held in California so far. A third is scheduled for June 24 to 28.

Aug. 8 cause report Bradford Ventura, chief of the Maui Department of Fire and Public Safety, told the Star-Advertiser that he understands the intense public interest in how and where the fatal Aug. 8 fires started.

At the end of the month, fire officials plan to meet with agents from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to complete the report on the cause and origins.

“We understand that everyone is eager to hear the findings of this report. The task of sorting through all the data was extremely difficult and we are very grateful for the support of the ATF team,” said Ventura. “The goal is to focus on all the details so we can provide you all with the most comprehensive root cause and origin report.”

ATF personnel will fly to Maui later this month to present and discuss their findings with Maui fire officials, said Jason R. Chudy, public information officer for the ATF’s Seattle Field Division.

This investigation is separate from the lawsuit.

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