Big Island prosecutors reviewing case of horse killed by hunter targeting wild pigs in Honomū
The Hawai’i Police Department has referred to the prosecutor’s office a September case involving a momma horse shot at night by a hunter targeting wild pigs on private property in Honomū.
“We take firearms-related incidents seriously,” Hawai’i County Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen said in a text. “We will be reviewing the police reports to determine if there are any necessary follow-up investigations and to make a charging decision based on the facts and evidence presented.”
Waltjen called it a “very sad and unfortunate incident.”
On Sept. 18, the horse’s co-owner Craig Burkhold, got a text from his neighbor at 9:48 p.m. while he was sleeping. It said: “That light in our yard is a pig hunter, he knows about your horses.”
Burkhold said he woke up the next day and found his beloved Onyx lying in the middle of his large field while her 11-week old foal, Uhane, danced around her. Onyx was dead from a bullet lodged in her front shoulder area by her leg.
The 17-hand tall, beautiful black horse was allegedly shot by a friend of Robin Sandlin, the neighbor who sent Burkholder the text message.
According to Waltjen, the suspected shooter is a young adult male who has not been publicly identified because he has not been arrested or charged.
Hawai’i state law prohibits hunting from one-half hour after sunset to one half-hour before sunrise on public or private property. Artificial light for hunting is prohibited, too.
Burkholder said he called the Hawai’i Police Department immediately after discovering Onyx’s lifeless body on his property, which is north of Hilo on the Big Island. Officer Collin Roberts responded. He left Burkholder and his husband Hal Fansler with a notification. It included the report number and classified the incident as “Cruelty to Animals 1.”
Burkholder said a few days later Officer Roberts and another officer returned to his house to continue the investigation. He took the bullet fragment and also obtained information about the value of Onyx.
Burkholder said the officer told him the hunter had turned in the gun to police.
Burkholder said the officer at the time also told him that it is unlikely his neighbor will be charged criminally.
But now that the case is at the prosecutor’s office, there are potential charges under review. They include one felony: first-degree criminal property damage. That charge is possible because the horse was valued at $20,000. But to convict on that charge, intent is required.
Sandlin said after the incident: “It was a tragic accident that we wish didn’t happen and that we wish we could take back.”
Burkhold said Sandlin was trying to sell his property — a 25-acre estate listed for $1.425 million and that had been on the market since June 23 — but was having to deal with continuing damage caused by wild pigs.
The prosecutors also are reviewing misdemeanor charges of second-degree cruelty to animals, second-degree reckless endangering, illegal night hunting on private property and hunting without a license.
The reckless endangerment charge is for using a firearm in an area where it might hurt someone. The field was not far from Burkholder’s home.