Two West Hawaii men are dead following separate crashes that occurred within just a few hours of each other Thursday afternoon in North Kohala and North Kona.
The first crash, reported about 1:15 p.m. near Hawi, left 52-year-old Kailua-Kona resident Jessie Taylor dead, according to the Hawaii Police Department. The second crash, reported about 4 p.m. near Kiholo Bay, claimed the life of 38-year-old Waimea resident Christopher M. Landers.
The fatalities bring the island’s total number of people killed this year on public roadways to 16 — up more than 33 percent from the 12 fatalities at this point in 2011, according to police.
According to police, Taylor was riding a bicycle eastbound on Akoni Pule Highway near mile marker 19 when he was struck by a 2003 Nissan Frontier pickup truck that was also headed east.
A 16-year-old Hawi girl driving the truck had apparently fallen asleep and drifted off the right side of the highway before striking Taylor, who was riding on the highway’s shoulder, according to police. The driver of the truck and her mother, a 45-year-old Hawi woman, were not injured.
Taylor was transported to Kona Community Hospital where he died at 9:10 p.m., according to police. It is unknown at this time if speed, alcohol or drugs were involved.
In the second accident, reported less than three hours after the North Kohala crash, Landers was driving a 2002 Ford Ranger pickup truck northbound on Queen Kaahumanu Highway between mile markers 82 and 83, when he was struck head-on by a southbound 2000 Ford F350 pickup truck, according to police.
Apparently, the F350 had sustained a blown front driver’s side tire, causing the vehicle to veer into oncoming traffic, according to police. The truck clipped a 2011 Nissan Altima sedan carrying four people before colliding head-on with the pickup, which had no other occupants.
Landers was taken to Kona Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:10 p.m. Police said he was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
The 49-year-old driver of the F350 pickup truck was transported to North Hawaii Community Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries and released, according to police.
The 67-year-old woman driving the Nissan and her three female passengers, ages 20, 38 and 44, all of Austin, Texas, were not injured, according to police.
Police do not suspect alcohol, drugs or speed caused the Queen Kaahumanu Highway crash, which left the highway closed for about three hours while police and fire rescue personnel remained on-scene.
For both cases, Traffic Enforcement Unit officers have initiated negligent homicide investigations and have ordered autopsies to determine the exact cause of death.
Calls to Traffic Enforcement Unit Sgt. Christopher Gali for confirmation that both men were pronounced dead at the same time at Kona Community Hospital were not returned as of press time Friday. However, according to the Hawaii Fire Department, the men had died prior to fire rescue personnel arriving at the scenes.
Anyone with information about the Queen Kaahumanu Highway crash should call Officer Larry Flowers, and anyone with information on the Akoni Pule Highway crash should call Officer Joshua Lewis. Both can be reached at 326-4646, ext. 229.