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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, March 5, 2005

Farm thefts sharply decline

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

KAHUKU — Farm thefts —once a chronic problem here — have decreased dramatically since a man reportedly stealing from a farmer was shot and killed nearly six months ago, farmers and police said.

You Soukaseum has farms in Kahuku and Waimanalo. He says thievery is still a problem in Waimanalo but much less so in Kahuku.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

No theft reports have been made at Kahuku farms since Marcelino Pacheco Jr. was shot near Khamxath Baccam's farm on Sept. 7.

Baccam, 48, was charged with second-degree murder. His trial is set for the week of July 25.

Police have said Baccam told investigators he shot Pacheco, 38, because he believed that Pacheco had been stealing equipment and produce from his farm.

Baccam's attorney said his client will plead self-defense.

Bouabanh Piasourapany, 49, said recently that other farmers tell her they haven't had any problems since September.

"Everything quiet for now, since September — but next month, I don't know," said Piasourapany, who was weeding in a field of eggplants in Malaekahana Valley.

You Soukaseum believes that it was a would-be thief who set fire to a tractor, along with a shed, at his Kahuku farm on Feb. 20. Fire officials have turned over the case to police investigators.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Piasourapany, whose 13-acre farm is next to Baccam's, said Baccam was repeatedly robbed of his produce and equipment.

Police were called, but "police cannot do anything," she said.

Piasourapany said thieves stole from another farm that she and her husband operated in Kahuku but she has not had a problem in her present location because it is more secluded.

Police said thieves are still ripping off tourists' cars but the September shooting might have been a wake-up call for people stealing from farmers.

The shooting also served as a rallying cry for farmers, who are planning ways to beef up security through citizen patrols, said Alan Takemoto, executive director for the Hawai'i Farm Bureau Federation.

Farmers met last month to set up an organization with the hope of creating a neighborhood watch or phone tree and maybe get some training from police on ways to secure their farms, Takemoto said.

"We recognize the complexity of the issue, so No. 1, they have to start organizing themselves, helping themselves, protecting their farms and working with the police," he said, adding that the Farm Bureau is helping with those efforts. "They're trying to be a little more proactive."

Some Kahuku farmers contacted for this article were reluctant to give their names for fear of reprisals but all said there have been no thefts from their land since the shooting. Farmers said they've seen no suspicious people and a peace has settled over the community. But no one is sure how long that will last.

Theft from farms statewide has been a problem for decades and the shooting underscored the frustration that growers feel as they labor under the hot sun only to have their crops, equipment and supplies stolen.

You Soukaseum, who operates more than 500 acres of truck farms in Kahuku and Waimanalo, said he hasn't had any problems in Kahuku since the shooting until Feb. 20 when he believes someone trying to cover up an attempted theft set fire to his storage shed and tractor.

Fire officials said the 1:30 a.m. fire was deliberately set and the case has been turned over to police.

"Kahuku, now, nobody go steal," Soukaseum said. But on this occasion, "somebody go try steal something."

He said that apparently nothing was taken, but he's worried that his Kahuku farms may face the problems that his Waimanalo farm has been experiencing.

"Since last September, nine times theft," he said. "I lose eight golf carts. Maybe we have to close this (Waimanalo) one."

Soukaseum said his workers use the carts to get around the farms where he grows 22 different crops, some of which he donates to the Foodbank and Kahuku Hospital.

Baccam and his wife were farming their lot recently but they declined to comment, saying they did not want to jeopardize the upcoming trial.

Their attorney, Todd Eddins, said Baccam did not work for a month after the shooting but had to return to the land to earn a living.

"There is justifiable anxiety about the prospects of a murder trial but he is hopeful about the ultimate outcome," Eddins said.

After Baccam was charged, farmers took up a collection for attorney and court fees. "He is heartened by the tremendous show of community support behind him," Eddins said.

Farmers and residents across the island have rallied to support Baccam, collecting donations and planning fund-raisers for his trial, Takemoto said.

About $10,000 has been collected but the cost and fees are expected to exceed $30,000.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.