When news broke that Kauai local surfer and fisherman Stephen Koehne had been arrested for extortion, robbery and terroristic threatening, many people who know him couldn’t believe it. Dustin Barca was just one of many who was quick to come to his defence. “It’s fucked up,” Barca told The Inertia. “It’s not the truth of what happened.”
According to police, Koehne was arrested after he and several others posed as rescuers for people trapped by the flooding on Kauai. “The boat operators would pull up on the shore and invite people onto the boat, with the idea they would carry them over to by where the St. Regis Hotel is, to get them to a place of safety,” said Kauai Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar. Then, when they were about 200 yards offshore, the would-be rescuers demanded money before going any farther.
Despite his denials, Koehne’s social media feed quickly filled up with threats. “I can’t say much right now,” he responded, “but I swear on the lives of my two kids I did not do what they said I did.” Dustin Barca, a friend of Koehne, told The Inertia “the truth of what happened that day.”
According to Barca, after doing multiple boat trips taking food, medicine, supplies, gas, and ferrying people out of flood-affected areas, Koehne was offered money by some people who wanted to be the first ones out. “These people wanted to pay money to be the first ones to get out,” Barca said on a phone call on Sunday afternoon. “So he said, ‘we’ll make some gas money and pay for the rest of the trips that I’m going to be doing for the next few days.'” When Koehne and the people were about 100 yards from shore, things changed.
“When he got the people on the boat,” Barca continued, “one of the guys said, ‘oh, I don’t have to pay you nothing.’ So [Koehne] said, ‘you guys said you wanted to get the first trip out, and you said you were going to give me gas money. If you don’t want to go with what you said, I can turn around and bring you right back to the beach… I can drop you off and you can catch the next boat.’ They said, ‘no no, it’s all good.’ Next thing you know, he’s public enemy number one.”
Barca speculated that it may be part of a larger issue. “There’s already a huge thing with him and the DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) over here where they’re really trying to get him,” he explained. “It gave them the ability to finally take his boat. They pretty much ruined his name and all these people are talking crap about him.”
The issue at hand, according to Barca, is that boat tour operators hold a grudge against Koehne for allegedly running illegal boat tours. “There are a few powerful people who are trying to ruin him and they’re friends with the news and stuff. They’re really twisting the story and making him look real bad,” he said. They have little personal trips against him because they think he’s doing illegal boat tours… They’re trying to ruin his name, and it’s really lame because he’s a father of two kids. He’s just a fisherman, you know? A surfer and a fisherman and they’re really trying to ruin his name.”
Barca also thinks that it’s possible that Koehne may have inadvertently offended someone when they became too self-centered. “Sometimes people have super self-righteous attitudes when they come here,” he said. “He might’ve told the people, ‘cut your attitude, I’m helping you guys out. We’re in a serious situation. The world doesn’t revolve around you.'”
Koehne has been released from custody. When The Inertia asked the Kauai Police Department for comment, they declined.