Hitchhiker pleads not guilty in spooky Hilo drive-thru incident


A man from Puna pleaded not guilty on Monday to kidnapping and armed robbery charges following a heartbreaking incident last week at a Hilo fast food restaurant.

Lawrence Kekoa Botelho, 33, of Pahoa was charged on Saturday with first degree theft, first degree terrorist threat, unauthorized control of a powered vehicle, kidnapping and third degree promotion of a dangerous drug.

Police said the incident took place shortly before midnight on Wednesday, October 20.

South Hilo Patrol officers responded to downtown Puainako in Hilo following a report of a vehicle theft.

The 34-year-old victim reported to police that upon entering Hilo, he picked up a hitchhiker – later identified as Botelho – on the side of the roadway in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

Upon arrival in Hilo, the victim drove to a fast food restaurant. As they stood in line, the hitchhiker started acting erratically, yelling at the victim and verbally threatening to kill him, police said.

The suspect was then reportedly observed with a pistol and two knives in his hands. Fearing for his life, the victim got out of the driver’s seat of his vehicle and ran to safety, police said. The suspect then allegedly stole the victim’s vehicle.

On Thursday October 21, police located the victim’s vehicle unattended in the Panaewa area.

On Friday, October 22, Puna patrol officers responded to a convenience store in Orchidland after it was reported that Botelho was in the area. It was there that he was then located and arrested.

The theft and kidnapping charges are both Class A felonies with a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Because he is a repeat offender, Botelho faces a mandatory prison sentence if convicted of any of the offenses, except the drug offense.

Botelho has a long criminal history on and off the island.

He was convicted of an unspecified felony in San Antonio, Texas, in 2009, and in 2014 was charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in the same town.

In January 2020, he was charged with armed robbery after luring a Canadian couple to a house in Nanawale Estates after offering to provide accommodation for the two before stabbing them.

During the incident, he stole the woman’s phone, camera and $ 200 in cash, before threatening them with a gun if they didn’t leave.

Botelho was convicted of armed robbery in the 2020 case and was sentenced to 18 months in jail and four years probation. However, he was allowed early release to a residential drug treatment program.

But in August, Botelho was charged again with property damage and disorderly conduct, leading to his probation being revoked, for which he was also arrested last week.

In an initial appearance Monday in Hilo District Court, Botelho was denied release pending bail of $ 132,000. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Email Michael Brestovansky at [email protected]

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