Kilauea volcano opens door for looters to strip
Hawaii home owned by Ephraim man
By Suzanne Dean
EPHRAIM—An Ephraim resident who owns a farm and two houses on the Big Island of Hawaii is the victim of wholesale looting in the face of the Kilauea volcano.
Roy Leabig, who is 70 and single, said someone got through barricaded roads leading to his property by claiming to be a resident of area, pulled in a trailer and stripped what he described as a lovely two-level home to the walls.
“I had handmade teak furniture,” Leabig said. “I could have 50 people over for dinner. It was the kind of place you’d go to when you wanted to go home.”
He learned from neighbors and friends who were managing the property that his house is vacant: “My shoes are gone, my clothes are gone, my books are gone, my family pictures are gone.”
A manuscript for a book he had written about Hawaiian culture is gone, as is an SUV and a Lincoln town car.
And, he said, the destruction to his residence is on top of damage to the duplex units caused by inconsiderate tenants, but not related to the volcano.
Leabig grew up in Berkeley, Calif. He moved to the Big Island in 1985 to work as a record producer for an artist who performed Hawaiian music.
At first he rented a farm house on a 3-acre flower farm in what is known as the Puna area. In 1987, he purchased the farm, converted the farm house to a duplex and built a separate three-story home for himself.
He rented the duplex units and created a private “Hawaiian studies” school in the first level of the new home. He lived in the top two stories.
In the early 2000s, he met an LDS missionary who told him about Snow College. He came to Ephraim to visit the missionary and decided to buy a house as a student rental. Then he built another house for himself on the Ephraim property.
Between 2002 and 2017, he went back and forth between the two homes. He spent fall and winter in Hawaii, and spring and summer in Ephraim. He last visited Hawaii in May, June and July 2017.
Then in August 2017, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He was in intensive care at Utah Valley Hospital for a time. He just finished eight months of cancer treatments.
He said an Ephraim couple and members of his local LDS ward have taken him to Provo for cancer treatments, and provided other support.
One day after the Kilauea eruption, he got a call from a neighbor saying lights were on in his residence. He asked the neighbor to go check on the house.
When the neighbor knocked, the woman inside said Leabig had died; she was his niece; and she had inherited the property.
Ultimately, six police officers went to the house. A man came out and asked if it would be okay if everyone was out in three days. The police agreed. A half hour after the trespassers left, one of Leabig’s friends who was managing the property went to the house and found it looted.
According to Leabig, the volcano eruption has undermined law and order in Puna. Two thousand residents have left. “All the roads are cracking open, steam is coming up everywhere and with it poisonous gasses,” he said.
Lava from the volcano is about a mile from his property and is not flowing in the direction of his farm right now, he said. But it could.
“If everything cleans itself up, I’d love to go back,” he said.
If the volcano continues to threaten, or if lava covers his land, he’ll just hang on to his memories, he said.
“I’ve had 32 years of a really good life in pristine conditions in Hawaii. I think I just need to put that as a chapter in my book and move on.”