THE disappearance of a man at a scenic tourist spot where three others have vanished in recent years deepens an already troubling mystery.
Pinegar visited Kauai by himself after his previous plans fell through, making the trip from Utah in January 2008 and renting an apartment on the island.
He told family members he would return after a few months, but when March rolled around and he wasn’t back, Pinegar’s father went searching for him.
He arrived on Kauai and found the apartment clean with nothing out of place before handing out flyers and offering a $5,000 reward for information.
However, nothing came from his efforts, and he returned to Utah without his son.
The family got a lead months later on the Kalalau Trail when a hiker found an abandoned campsite near a cliff.
“A hiker just got this weird feeling like, this doesn’t look right, and so he reported it, and that’s how we found the campsite,” Pinegar’s sister, Niki Michaelis, told SFGATE.
The campsite was only about five miles into the trail.
The trail is one of the island chain’s most dangerous and is located in the Nepali Coast State Wilderness Park and camping is allowed for backpackers at Kalalau Beach about 11 miles into the trail.
Other than the normal risks that come with hiking, the area is also prone to flash floods and the red clay dirt can crumble when it’s dry or become slippery when wet.
Strong ocean currents can also pull swimmers out to sea.
A sign posted at the Hanakapiai Stream tallies the number of victims on the trail, with nearly 100 lives lost mentioned in its dire warning.
However, the trail’s beauty attracts hikers, backers and illegal campers each year.
Pinegar’s sister said he became familiar with the trail during his short time in Hawaii, hiking it multiple times before he disappeared.
After learning about the campsite, Pinegar’s father returned to Kauai and found his son’s iPod and other belongings.
However, his wallet and cellphone weren’t found.
“We went so long looking and asking questions, you literally go insane,” said Michaelis. “It’s like you don’t go through the cycle of grief. You go through the circle of grief. It just keeps going.”
Michaelis believes her brother either slipped and fell off a cliff or might have been a victim of foul play at the hands of an illegal camper on the trail.
She wrote a blog to help cope with her brother’s disappearance and made connections with families going through the same struggles.
Daniel Marks went missing in Kauai in 2005 at age 24 when he was last seen at the top of Kalalau Valley.
It’s believed Marks tried to make his own trail down the steep cliffs of the valley.
In a 2008 article from the Honolulu-Star, Claire Ueno, a missing persons investigator for the Kauai Police Department, said people have gone missing on the trail several times.
“Lots of people come over from the mainland and head for the Kalalau Valley,” she said. “I’ve heard Kauai is the vortex of something spiritual. People come here to find it, find themselves, find peace. They go into Kalalau Valley, like Daniel.”
Other disappearances include Bradford Turek in 2004, Atticus Louis Pearson in 1999 and Ilya Lomov in 2013.
However, others have also gone missing on the island, but exactly where they were last seen cannot be determined, such is the case with Alex Gumm in 2018 and Piotr Drabik in 2006.
“I don’t like the fact that there are a number of young men missing who have extremely similar profiles,” said Marks’ mother, Patricia Bernard Marks, who believes the disappearances may be the work of a serial killer.
Michaelis said she and her family have heard every possible scenario.
“You never know,” she said of the theories.
Now, she visits Kauai every other year, finding that it brings her closer to her brother.
“Actively talking about him just makes us feel, you know, he’s not forgotten,” she said.
“Because it feels like he disappeared and the world wanted to just forget, and we were fighting just to say, ‘Hey, there’s this person out there that’s missing,’ and nobody wanted to help us — unless we paid them.”