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Fire at Pukalani Country Club

An intentionally set fire at Pukalani Country Club on Friday has left dozens of people without jobs, caused more than $1 million in damage and forced the closure of the club's restaurant, leaving more than 600 people who had Easter reservations looking for new plans.

The fire started about 5 a.m. Friday in a golf cart garage. Police were to review surveillance tapes of the area yesterday.

Flames destroyed at least 35 golf carts and spread to the club's restaurant and pro shop. The restaurant sustained heavy smoke damage, and its air conditioners and ceilings were burnt.

Yasuo Nishida, the course's general manager, said he could do little more than watch as the buildings were engulfed in flames. Some 67 people work at the golf course, and all but the green and baseyard staff have been told to look for new jobs.

Police estimated damage to the buildings and their contents at more than $1.5 million.

Ruth Ann Deponte, manager of the restaurant, said Easter is one of the busiest days of the year. She and her staff called all those yesterday who had made reservations for brunch and dinner.

For some families, she added, Easter at the club has become a tradition. "I'm dumbfounded," Deponte said. "And I feel for all these people (at the club) who don't have jobs. That's what bothers me."

Updated :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.

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