Residents and family of two men who were killed in a May 7 two-car crash at the intersection of Kawaihae Road and Queen Kaahumanu Highway took part in a sign-waving event against drunken driving on Saturday. Jay Lactaoen — father of Kauahe Lactaoen, who was killed in the crash — said, “We’ve had enough already. There’s too many killings caused by drinking and driving.” Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today
Less than two-thirds of the way through 2012, Big Island roads have claimed an alarming number of lives.
From the year’s first fatality on Feb. 9 when a utility truck on Kaiminani Drive snagged an over-the-road cable and struck a pickup truck, killing the driver instantly, to the most recent, an Aug. 1 crash that killed a 21-year-old man whose car overturned near Kealakehe Parkway, public Big Island roads have claimed 24 lives — up 60 percent from the 15 killed at this point in 2011.
At that rate — one person killed nearly every 10 days — the island is on track for 39 fatalities on public roads by year’s end. In 2011, 22 people died on public roads; 27 in 2010; 29 in 2009; and 25 in 2008.
The victims, residents and visitors alike ranging in age from 6 months to 92 years old, perished in an array of tragic, freak and drunken or drugged driving crashes across the island. West Hawaii, an area spanning from Pahala to Honokaa, saw 16 of the deaths.
The Hawaii Police Department has attributed 12 — half of the deaths — thus far to crashes involving alcohol, drugs or a combination of both. A West Hawaii Today analysis of initial police statements found speeding was a suspected contributing factor in at least 11 of the crashes.
Police Maj. Randy Apele, who oversees the department’s Traffic Enforcement Unit, said police are concerned about the increase in traffic fatalities. Police Chief Harry Kubojiri, in a prepared statement, recently urged the public to be vigilant and drive sober and safe.
“We are working to prevent (fatalities) from occurring,” Apele said.
Apele said the TEU has looked at the trends and has increased enforcement in areas where crashes have occurred as well as areas deemed at high-risk for crashes. The department is also working to reduce motorcycle fatalities through enforcement and education.
TEU and patrol enforcement efforts primarily target speeders, those not using seat belts, and distracted and impaired drivers, he said. Each month, TEU operates seven to eight federal- and county-funded roadblocks islandwide. That’s in addition to those set up sporadically by district patrol officers.
However, the number of roadblocks in recent months remains static despite the number of fatalities, he confirmed.
But, starting Sunday, police will increase drunken driving roadblocks as part of a national enforcement campaign, said police Technical Services Maj. Larry Weber. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over” campaign will run through Labor Day, ending Sept. 5.
“When you go through a DUI checkpoint, we educate one more person about the dangers,” Apele said. “If you’re driving drunk, maybe, you could be apprehended. It sends a message.”
The Hawaii County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney has also noticed the up-tick in traffic deaths this year, said Prosecuting Attorney Charlene Iboshi. She noted the problem is not confined to Hawaii Island, but spans statewide.
The office conducts various prevention efforts, including the “Shattered Dreams” films made by high schools, as well as holding federally funded tandem training for police and prosecutors that strives to ensure the two parties work together and understand what is required for successful prosecution.
Though not an official program of the office, Iboshi said she would like to see some sort of series or events promoting “bystander intervention” or urging people to speak up or take action when someone impaired gets behind the wheel of a vehicle.
“There’s things that even a bystander can do,” she said. “At least try.”
Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii Executive Director Abigail Nickell called the increase in traffic fatalities on Hawaii Island — and statewide — “alarming.” She emphasized a portion of the deaths could have been avoided through planning and being responsible about drinking and then driving.
Despite the dismal statistics, Nickell said the community can learn and effect change by watching out for one another. She also advised parents should take time now to talk with kids — the earlier the better — about alcohol and being responsible and safe.
“We all have to take responsibility for each other,” she said. “You (on the Big Island) are a tight-knit community, and this problem will be easier to solve if everyone pulls together.”
The increase in traffic deaths on Hawaii Island has also spurred MADD to up its efforts here, said Nickell. Just Friday, the island’s lone office in Hilo hired a youth program coordinator, and work is under way for a victim outreach coordinator.
The office is also seeking volunteers islandwide to help with the nonprofit organization’s effort to prevent drunken driving and provide counseling and other services, she said. Anyone interested is asked to call the Honolulu office at 532-6232 or visit MADDHawaii.org.
“We are trying to be more active on Hawaii Island because we have been seeing the rates go up,” Nickell said. “We want to become less ‘Oahu-centric’ and have a presence on the neighbor islands.”
Calls over a two-day period to Steve Morifuji, a Hawaii County Department of Liquor Control administrative officer, for information on the department’s efforts were not returned. Gerald Takase, the department’s director, was out of the office and unavailable for comment.
By the month
Below is a month-by-month count of lives lost on public Big Island roads through Sunday. Not included are deaths on private roads and those attributed to medical conditions.
January 2012 - 0
February 2012 - 6
March 2012 - 2
April 2012 - 4
May 2012 - 3
June 2012 -0
July 2012 -7
August 2012 - 2
Total - 24