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Celebration of Life For Perished Tour Boat Operator Set For Saturday

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A celebration of life for Terresa “Reesa” Butts, the tour boat crew member who died in an accident during a manta tour on April 4, will be held from 2-7 p.m. Saturday, April 16 at the Kona Sailing Club.

Those who knew her said Reesa was one of the best water-women they knew. PC: Butts family

The ceremony begins at 2:30 p.m.

Reesa, as she was known to her friends and family – succumbed to injuries she sustained while working an evening manta tour on the vessel “Uhane Nui O Naiʻa.”

The event is open to the public. Those interested in attending should RSVP to [email protected].

A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, the agency in charge of the investigation surrounding the death, said on Thursday, April 14 that the probe is still ongoing and couldn’t comment further.

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Reesa’s family has hired a maritime injury and personal death attorney, Joe Stacey, based out of Seattle. The family referred Big Island Now’s questions to Stacey, who said his office is investigating the case and hasn’t yet made a decision yet on whether to pursue further action.

Reesa’s ex-husband, Dennis Butts, told the Honolulu-based news organization Civil Beat shortly after the accident that Reesa died needlessly. He and his daughter Jeannette have spoken to customers and deckhands who were on the boat at the time of the accident and witnessed it, the Civil Beat article stated. He said he has been informed by those people that his ex-wife was hit by the boat’s propellers after she went into the water.

That account is what Jeannette told the media shortly after the accident, and that the boat operator performed negligently that night.

The accident occurred around 6 p.m. that Monday evening around 10-boating minutes outside of Honokohau Harbor. Reesa was in the process of mooring the boat, family and others close to the situation have told Big Island Now.

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The boat captain that night, whose name isn’t being printed as he has not been named publicly, charged or cited with anything, hasn’t returned a message from Big Island Now seeking comment.

The “Uhane Nui O Naiʻa,” a 40-foot vessel, was operated by the company Sunlight on Water, which hasn’t run operations since the accident. The company owner declined to talk to Big Island Now, referring all questions to the Coast Guard.

Former employees and other boating and tour professionals told Big Island Now that crew members on Uhane Nui O Naiʻa entered the water from the stern, which they said is an unusual practice by industry standards because the stern is where the boat’s engine and propellers are. Most, if not all other companies, have their crews jump from the bow of the boat when they’re mooring the craft for safety and efficiency reasons, they explained.

Madalyn Munoz, an instructor and dive guide for the company Kona Honu, was in the water that night in the area of the accident.

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Munoz was leading a dive underwater when she heard the Uhane Nui O Naiʻa drive into the manta site above her. She told Big Island Now that she looked up to gage where the boat was, and also heard its engine running. She couldn’t tell, she said, by the sounds of the engine whether it was in gear or neutral.

She didn’t think anything unusual about it, until a very short time later, when she heard the boat engines accelerate and the boat leave the scene “about five to 10 minutes” after it arrived, she estimated.

Reesa Butts, left. PC: Butts family

“I just remember shortly after hearing the boat haul ass out of there,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, that was really weird.ʻ”

When she came up, she didn’t see any signs of a serious accident in the water, no blood was visible, but her captain informed her someone with another company had been “cropped,” an industry term for getting hit by the propellers.

Munoz said she knew Reesa as they worked together for a while with another company, and said, as others have told Big Island Now, that Reesa was one of the most capable water women in the ocean industry, and that the notion she could have fallen off the boat too far fetched to fathom.

When she learned the next day it was Reesa who had perished, “my heart just sank,” Munoz said.

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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