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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 30, 2010

Most crime in Hawaii linked to drugs, says law agency official


By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

DRUGS AND CRIME

Background: Authorities have estimated as much as 66 percent of law enforcement investigations in Hawai'i are drug-related.

High-profile: Several high-profile crimes have involved drugs, including the killing of Cyrus Belt.

What's new: Though Hawai'i's crime rate remains low, authorities are concerned about a recent uptick in crimes. And the wholesale price of crystal meth is up, signaling steady demand.

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Authorities say the death of 23-month-old Cyrus Belt, whose accused killer was high on crystal meth, along with virtually every adult in the toddler's life, highlights the major role illegal drugs play in many crimes from murders to thefts — in the Islands.

Witnesses detailed in court this week the crystal meth use by not only accused killer Matthew Higa, but by Belt's mother, Nancy Chanco, her live-in boyfriend, her father and Higa's father.

Authorities say the case is a stark example of how drugs are linked to crime, and they're warning residents that though the crystal meth problem is not at the epidemic proportions it once was, it remains a factor in many crimes.

"We still have an immense problem" with meth, said city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle.

Authorities have estimated that as much as two-thirds of all law enforcement investigations in Hawai'i are drug-related.

"Most of the crime that we see in Hawai'i, including the violent crime, is associated with drug abuse or drug trafficking," said Larry Burnett, director of the Hawai'i High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a partnership of law-enforcement agencies.

Belt's death is no exception, officials say, and is one of several high-profile crimes in the Islands that have involved drugs.

Drugs were also linked to the brutal beating of an elderly woman and her caregiver in Wai'alae Nui on Jan. 21. And to a brazen killing in Chinatown last year, in which rival gang members allegedly gunned down a 35-year-old man in a hail of 18 gunshots in the middle of the street.

Police have said the March 2009 shooting was linked to a turf war over the distribution of cocaine.

SUSPECT AN ADDICT

The Cyrus Belt killing happened shortly before noon on Jan. 17, 2008, when Higa allegedly threw the toddler from the Miller Street pedestrian overpass to the H-1 Freeway 30 feet below, where he was hit by a two-ton delivery truck.

Higa is an admitted crystal meth addict, and Carlisle said the 24-year-old was high when he allegedly killed Cyrus.

Others in the toddler's life also used ice.

In court Thursday, the toddler's mother testified on the witness stand she was gambling in Chinatown, smoking ice and shoplifting at Ala Moana Center on the day Cyrus died. Higa's father also said in court that he used the drug, occasionally smoking it with his son and with Chanco and her boyfriend, Shane Mizusawa.

The testimony rounded out the closely watched trial of a tragedy that shocked the state.

Closing arguments in the nonjury trial are set for Feb. 4.

Carlisle said the killing and other drug-related crimes illustrate "all the ways the drug problem rears its hideous head."

He added that when Higa "walked onto that overpass, he was carrying a baby in diapers and ... was high" on crystal methamphetamine.

Carlisle could not comment on the Wai'alae Nui attack because an investigation into the crime is ongoing, but he did say drug-related crime can include everything from someone stealing to support a drug habit to gangs "fighting over (drug) turf."

He added, "Meth is still around."

STEADY DEMAND

Crystal meth grabbed headlines in 2005, when Hawai'i's epidemic was among the worst in the nation.

Today, the problem has eased, but authorities are raising concerns about an increase in the wholesale price for the drug, which signals that demand for crystal meth is steady.

And they say residents need to be on the lookout in their communities for suspicious activity that could be drug-related.

The Wai'alae Nui attack has stunned many in the quiet community, where residents rarely see violent crimes. Zachary Robinson, 19, and Cody Mikami, 21, each have been charged with one count of first-degree attempted murder, two counts of second-degree attempted murder and one count of first-degree robbery in connection with the crime, which happened about 3 a.m. on Jan. 21. They are accused of severely beating Mary Lee Koskinen, 85, and her caregiver, Matthew Edmondson, 40.

The two remain in the hospital. A relative said this week that Edmondson is still unconscious.

The relative declined comment on the case because he had not spoken to police.

Drugs are believed to have been at the root of the crime, and police have said an unknown amount of crystal meth was found in the home.

PERSISTENT PROBLEM

Burnett, of HIDTA, said law enforcement is closely watching drug trends, and he added that the problem is still a persistent one.

The uptick in the wholesale price of crystal meth comes as crime is also on the rise, though authorities are not necessarily linking the two trends.

Crime on O'ahu increased nearly 6 percent in the first half of last year, FBI figures released last month show.

Officials are quick to mention, though, that Honolulu remains one of the safest cities in the country.

Hawai'i does not specifically track drug-related crime, but a 2006 survey showed 66 percent of Hawai'i law enforcement investigations were connected to drugs, according to a HIDTA report.

Meanwhile, a 2009 HIDTA analysis pointed out that about half of the cases investigated in Hawai'i by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2008 were drug-related.