Making A Case For Character

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - May 28, 2008

It is often assumed that violence involving teens can be attributed to where they live or how much money their families have. Conventional wisdom dictates that poverty and environment are the primary determining factors in criminal behavior. While it may be a quantifiable statistic, I maintain that character knows no economic or geographic definition.

Two recent stories make my case. Ned Nakoa was a beloved man. Despite being single, his extended family and friends cherished him, and although he had moved to Seattle, Hawaii was his home. He graduated from St. Louis and was known to be somewhat of a prankster. One of his friends said he never did anything sinister, but he did love life. Nakoa was a cheerleader and a member of the glee club and, according to his good friend, he would do things to make you laugh and have fun. Nakoa, 58, was in town to attend a niece’s wedding in Waikiki. That’s when things went terribly wrong.

Benjamin Pada, 18, and Kelii Donovan Acasia, 19, of Waianae are no strangers to the Honolulu Police Department. At such a young age, Acasia has been in jail more than once. While doing time at the Hawaii Youth Correction Facility in Kaneohe, he was charged with sexual assault involving a male victim. He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree sexual assault and was sentenced to a year in prison with five years’probation.


However, an affidavit revealed that Acasia did not stick to conditions of his probation. A bench warrant was issued and he was brought before Family Court Judge Frances Wong a second time. Acasia was re-sentenced to 10 years, but based on an argument by his lawyer, Judge Wong reduced this new sentence to five years’probation. Soon thereafter, Acasia failed to appear for a hearing and another bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

Eyewitness accounts filed with HPD tell a story of two thuggish teens preying on an unsuspecting couple. After snatching the purse of the out-of-town tourist while assaulting a Hawaii-based Marine, Pada and Acasia ran. With the Marine in pursuit, the trio continued their battle at Waikiki intersection. While the Marine and the purse snatcher scuffled, Nakoa intervened. Nakoa’s brother was not surprised when he was told Ned tried to break up a fight.

“Being a Good Samaritan so fits his personality,” said Kalani Nakoa. Although Ned Nakoa’s intent was laudable, it cost him his life. While trying to break up the skirmish, witnesses say Nakoa was struck in the head and kicked while on the ground. Unconscious and barely with a pulse, Ned Nakoa - son, uncle, brother and friend - died. Had the bench warrant for Acasia been served or if Judge Wong had sent him to prison, it is not unreasonable to believe Ned Nakoa would be alive today.


Cindy Ta’s story is pretty straightforward. The daughter of immigrant parents raised in the Palolo public housing, Cindy is on her way to Harvard Medical School. Paul and Tracy Ta left their native Vietnam, finally settling in Honolulu. Their livelihood is found in a small barber shop, where hard work and long hours provided, if not a luxurious lifestyle, a home and an education for Cindy. Although she could not speak English when starting public school, Cindy dedicated herself to learning, and is now a UH medical school graduate. Her parents, understandably proud, appropriately share in their daughter’s accomplishments. If not for their example of perseverance and integrity, Cindy’s story could have been very different.

Cindy’s first-grade teacher, Gayle Terayama says, “Our kids see a lot of negative things in their lives. A lot of crime goes on in the housing. There’s a lot of despair and hopelessness.”

Despite a challenging beginning, the Ta family worked their way out of public housing and into their own much-smaller dwelling. Although it was more difficult to be independent, the parents reveled in paying their own way. “Life was a lot easier in the housing, but it’s a lot better out of it,” Paul Ta says.

Tony Pada addressed reporters after his nephew’s first hearing. After issuing an apology to the victim’s family, he said he hoped the “incident” wouldn’t happen again and that the boys made “mistakes.”

“Things happen,” he said. “It was an accident. The truth will come and it will set them free.”

Cindy Ta, Benjamin Pada and Kelii Acasia come from similar backgrounds. Life in Waianae and Palolo housing can be tough, but for every negative story in these communities, there are countless untold stories of wonderful people doing great things. Coming from a family with limited means, as I did, poses certain difficulties, especially when raising children. However, growing up in a rough environment with financial challenges does not automatically sentence a child to a future of crime and disappointment. Parents and family are the greatest influence. The lessons taught by example in the home supersede the antics of a child’s peers. If the parents and family do not live a life of love, support and character, there is very little blame to go around when trying to explain juvenile criminal behavior.

Although we will be treated to numerous stories about Pada and Acasia as their case is adjudicated, I would love to see follow-up stories on Cindy Ta and her family. It is healthy to understand in a world of sadness and tragedy, there are examples of beauty and triumph.

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