Big Island guides arrested for alleged illegal lava viewing tours

A small breakout on the upslope portion of the June 27th lava flow. The pahoehoe lava is flowing over an ʻaʻa flow from late 2007. (Courtesy USGS)

Two guides who authorities say were involved in leading illegal lava viewing tours into the state Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve and Kahaualea Natural Area Reserve were arrested Monday.

The charges were for prohibited entry into closed areas and for engaging in illegal commercial activities on lands managed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers conducted an undercover operation which resulted in the arrest of Matthew Hoeflinger, 50, of Keaau, and Christa Nicholas, 23, of Mountain View.

Hoeflinger and Nicholas were charged with reckless endangering in the second degree, conducting illegal commercial activities within a forest reserve, entering a closed area within a natural area reserve and conducting illegal commercial activities within a natural area reserve. All are misdemeanor offenses.

They are also being charged with trespassing in the second degree and entering a closed area in a forest reserve, which are petty misdemeanor offenses.

Hoeflinger and Nicholas were transported to the Pahoa police station for booking and were subsequently released on their own recognizance.

Entry into closed lands is a violation of Hawaii Administrative Rule Sec. 13-221-4 and Hawaii Revised Statute 171-6, and is subject to a penalty of up to $5,000 for the first offense.

“DLNR intends to prosecute any trespassers who willfully violate the closures and place enforcement officers and emergency personnel at increased risk,” said William J. Aila Jr., DLNR chairperson.

Signs have been posted at various access points warning the public of the hazardous conditions.

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