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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Arrests made in country club fire

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

WAILUKU, Maui Two high school students were arrested and charged yesterday in connection with a fire that caused more than $1 million damage to the Pukalani Country Club on Friday.

The suspects, Maxwell Webster of Ha'iku and Richard Acorda of Pukalani, are seniors at King Kekaulike High School in Puakalani. Maui police were looking for a third suspect, said Lt. John Jakubczak of the Criminal Investigation Division.

Maxwell and Acorda, both 18, are charged with first-degree criminal property damage, a felony with a maximum 10-year prison term.

The two played on King Kekaulike's basketball team. They are considered "good, respectful" students and have not caused problems at school, according to health and physical education teacher Paul Lu'uwai. "They're very, very good boys, and I am totally shocked that they may have been involved in something like this. They're good kids in school and have been all four years," Lu'uwai said.

Jakubczak said a security camera mounted outside the clubhouse showed three people using gasoline to start the fire at about 5 a.m. Friday at the corner of the building where the golf cart barn is located. Detectives were led to the suspects by camera images of school sweatshirts they wore and the vehicle they drove, he said.

The suspects did not provide a motive for the arson, he said.

The fire destroyed 33 golf carts valued at $5,000 each and caused extensive fire, smoke and water damage to the pro shop, kitchen, bar and 151-seat restaurant, a popular eating place that was gearing up for a busy Easter weekend.

The 160-acre golf course, built in 1970, is a private club open to the public.

Pukalani Country Club general manager Yasuo Nishida yesterday said that once phone service is restored, the golf course could reopen by the end of the week, using a trailer on site as an office. It will take much longer for the restaurant to reopen, he said.

The restaurant's 50 or so employees have been told to seek unemployment benefits, he said. The golf course operation employs 20 to 30 people.

Maui Fire Department officials estimated damage at $550,000 to the building and $500,000 to its contents. Nishida said he was waiting for insurance adjusters to make a more accurate assessment of the damage, which would help owner KG Holdings LLC decide whether to repair the modest clubhouse or tear it down and rebuild.

The Pukalani Country Club, in a quiet residential neighborhood at the 1,100-foot elevation of Haleakala, has been hit by vandals before. Two weeks ago, a vehicle tore up some of the greens, Nishida said. In March, a golf cart and water fountain were set on fire on the 14th fairway.

Jakubczak said it is not known whether Friday's fire is related to those incidents.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.