HILO — Neighbors say the gulch roadway where tourist Yogi Yoswara disappeared on the night of Dec. 19 is dangerous, and want something done about it.
“If it’s flooding, you can die,” said Karen Rowland, who prior to Yoswara’s disappearance and death had written letters to county officials, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in an attempt to have a bridge installed on Makai Cross Road in the Kapehu Homestead area of Papaaloa.
The Dodge Charger rented by the Alhambra, Calif., man was found on New Year’s Eve in Pahale Stream and the body of the 31-year-old architecture student was found about 100 yards downstream, Fire Department officials said.
The last time Yoswara was seen was between 8 and 9 p.m. Dec. 19 when he dropped off a woman he had met on vacation at the Hilo Backpacker’s Hostel. He reportedly told the woman he was worried about the return trip to his rental cabin due to the rain and the condition of the road.
“I’ve been complaining for over a year now,” Rowland said. “They did do some paving near our neighbors on the other end of the subdivision, but their lives are not in danger like ours are. I don’t know why the county has ignored this problem. If you were from somewhere else, or even from Hilo or Kona, and were driving down here at night, you would have no idea that it’s not safe, none at all.”
County Public Works Director Warren Lee said Thursday that Makai Cross Road is a “road in limbo.”
“At one time, when the territorial government became the state government, the roads were transferred to the county government, but the county never formally accepted it like dedicated roads. … We have it listed on our inventory as a road in limbo. What we’re doing, as funds become available, is that we’re improving our roads in limbo. We try to (improve) maybe three to five miles a year.” Lee added the county has about 400 miles of roads in limbo.
“Some are just on paper; some are going through pastures; some are just trail-like,” he said. “Of the dirt-type, there’s about 100 to 125 miles of roads like that.”
Lee said that no work is scheduled for Makai Cross Road “in the near future, not for this year, anyway.”
A 1989 study by the state Legislative Reference Bureau states: “For residents throughout the state, attempts to get certain roads maintained, repaired, or improved end in frustration. When calls for assistance are made to the county, the county refers them to the state. When calls are made to the state, the state refers them to the county. The jurisdiction over these roads remains in dispute, and it is the residents who pay the price.”
Rowland said she became upset reading a news account containing speculation by a source that Yoswara had become lost and was on the wrong road.
“It was not his fault,” she said. “He was on the right road, but it’s dangerous when it’s raining, or even if it’s raining and snow melts on Mauna Kea.”
A portion of Makai Cross Road is a steep gravel grade that dips into the gully with a narrow concrete roadway without guardrails with boulders strewn about either side. In good weather, the concrete portion of the road is above water, but not during a rain, Rowland said.
“There have been several people stuck because it’s so narrow,” she said. “In the six years I’ve lived here, I know personally that it’s happened to three people, three neighbors. If they don’t fix this, this will keep happening. How can somebody who doesn’t live around here have any idea? How would they know not to go down there?”
Neighbors Shohei Sato and Kay Kurata said they saw Yoswara’s rental car in the gulch on the night of Dec. 19, but didn’t know the circumstances surrounding the car’s presence in the gully.
“We came by at about 11 o’clock that night and we saw the car stuck in the river,” Sato said. “It looked like he escaped, because the trunk (was) open and car window was open, the driver’s window. Headlights were on; inside light was on. Looks like he escaped.”
Sato said he had seen Yoswara drive by previously, but had not spoken to him. Both he and Kurata said they didn’t report the car in the river, because they didn’t see it the next day.
“I thought maybe they (had) come and picked it (the car) up,” Kurata said. “We really need a bridge.”
Added Sato: “After heavy rain it’s crazy. On rainy days, we use the other road, but the other road is also bad.”
Rowland said the other road Sato mentioned, Oshiro Camp Road, which is mauka of Makai Cross Road, is also dangerous during a rain and that Jade Rowland once got stuck there trying to cross the stream, as well.
“The concrete had washed away and my car flipped over on its side and started filling up,” Jade Rowland said. “There’s a 50-foot dropoff and my car was right at the dropoff. … I got out on my roof and had a tow strap. I called a neighbor and luckily he was there to pull my car out.”
Lee said that improvements were made on Oshiro Camp Road and Kapehu Road.
“We’ve been in that area and have done some bridge repair work,” he said.
Karen Rowland said she believes the county is negligent for not improving the gulch crossing on Makai Cross Road or at least posting a sign about the danger.
“On the upper road, where my husband got stuck, they put up a sign after I complained that said ‘may flood,’” she said. “But that’s not gonna stop somebody from dying. That’s it. They didn’t fix anything. They did nothing down here and this is way worse. It’s never been safe; it’s not safe now. And they don’t want to spend the money to fix it.
“Now, someone’s died. Are they gonna do something now?”