WAILUKU - With Hawaiian Canoe Club not asking to be compensated for damages to its traditional hale, a man was released Friday after six months in jail for setting fire to the structure's pili grass roof.
Johnathan Namauleg, 19, of Kahului was placed on five years' probation.
"With the flick of your BIC, the hale's roof was lit," 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo said as she sentenced Namauleg.
He had pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of third-degree arson in the July 26 fire to the hale at Hoaloha Park in Kahului.
The hale and a canoe stored there were damaged in the fire at about 8:20 that night. Initial estimates put the damage at up to $5,000.
Namauleg later told police he used a disposable BIC lighter to set the fire because he was angry after being kicked out of the area earlier in the day.
"The damage could have been a lot worse," said Deputy Public Defender William "Pili" McGrath. "There's no way to justify it."
Namauleg's father is in jail, and he was sent from Saipan to Maui, where he has no stable family relationships, he said.
"I'm sorry," Namauleg said in court Friday.
Deputy Prosecutor Kim Whitworth said that club members at the hale had been welcoming to Namauleg, but then he tried to steal a member's pair of shoes and was told to leave. If he had instead told members he wanted to learn to paddle, they would have helped him and "the family he's craving could have started with the canoe hale," Whitworth said.
She said the canoe club wasn't seeking restitution for the damage in acknowledgment of the spirit of the hale as a place that brings people together for activities.
Members had spent years raising money and building the hale, Whitworth said.
"It's a very special and sacred thing," she said.
A plea agreement between the defense and prosecution recommended probation and up to nine months in jail for Namauleg.
"You're lucky that nobody was in the hale and nobody got burned or scarred for life," Loo told Namauleg. "If you learn anything from this, there are different ways to approach situations like this. I suggest you get rid of all your lighters, all your matches."
Namauleg was ordered to complete a drug and alcohol assessment and to obtain mental health treatment.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.