Daughter and mother, Genalyn Visaya-Ulep, left, and Josefina Visaya are seen in this undated family photo.
By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Family members of one of two women killed in a traffic collision late Monday afternoon near Kalopa remember her as a quiet, hardworking woman who loved her family.
Rowena Visaya, daughter-in-law of 61-year-old Josefina Visaya of Keaau, described her as a “good mother-in-law.”
“She’s very quiet. She’s a good lady,” she said Tuesday morning.
Visaya’s daughter, Genalyn Visaya-Ulep of Orchidland Estates, also described her mom as “a very quiet person.”
“She’s very loving. She always thinks of us, the kids, the grandkids,” Visaya-Ulep, the youngest of three children, said.
Authorities say Josefina Visaya and 54-year-old Patrocinia Cadang, also of Keaau, were killed when the 2005 Ford van they were riding in was sideswiped and knocked down a 15-foot embankment by a 1993 Nissan pickup truck attempting to pass them on Mamalahoa Highway (Highway 19).
Both were dead at the scene, according to the Fire Department. They were among eight people in the van, all employees of Puna Certified Nursery, who were returning home from a landscaping job in West Hawaii when the crash occurred at about 4:23 p.m.
“They were all friends because they all worked together at Puna Certified Nursery,” Visaya-Ulep said. “They all went together in one van to work. They go to work early in the morning. Like 4:30 or 5 o’clock, they leave the house. My brother-in-law, Efren, who owns the van, he picks them up at the house, and takes them every day.”
Efren Chavez, 45, of Keaau, who’s also the brother of Rowena Visaya, was treated for minor injuries at North Hawaii Community Hospital and released. His wife, 46-year-old Marilyn Chavez, was one of those critically injured, as were two other 46-year-old Keaau women, all passengers in the van.
One of the women was medevaced to The Queens Medical Center in Honolulu, while one was taken to North Hawaii Community Hospital and the third to Hilo Medical Center. A 55-year-old Keaau man was listed in stable condition at North Hawaii Community Hospital.
Two other van passengers, a 23-year-old woman and 23-year-old man, both from Keaau, were were treated for minor injuries at Hilo Medical Center and released.
The truck’s driver, 30-year-old Alfred Berdon III of Honokaa, wasn’t injured. Police believe he was speeding and under the influence of alcohol when the crash occurred.
Berdon was arrested on suspicion of two counts of negligent homicide, four counts of negligent injury, DUI, and driving with a suspended license and without insurance. He had not been charged with those offenses as of press time on Tuesday. Berdon was also arrested on an outstanding bench warrant and charged with contempt of court.
According to court records, Berdon, who was convicted of DUI on Aug. 7, failed to have an ignition interlock device installed on his car by Aug. 14 as ordered and didn’t show up for a proof of compliance hearing on Sept. 4.
Court records further show that Berdon has been convicted of speeding five times since December 2000, most recently on June 25, 2010.
Visaya-Ulep said that her mom, who immigrated to Hawaii from the Philippines, worked for the Kurtistown nursery for 18 years.
“She used to work in the nursery, but she transferred to landscaping, like, two or three years ago. When she came to Hawaii, that was her first job, at Puna Certified,” she said.
Visaya-Ulep said her mother’s loss has been “so hard” on the family.
“It’s so sudden,” she said. “The last time I saw her was Saturday. She doesn’t drive, so she’d always call me if she needed to go to the store, like every weekend. We go to the store, we go shopping, we go to the mall and usually we always go to Walmart every weekend.”
Visaya’s and Cadang’s deaths are the 28th and 29th official traffic fatalities on the Big Island this year, a 93 percent increase over the 15 official fatalities logged at the same time last year.
Anyone with information about the crash is asked to call Officer Paul Kim at 333-9708.
This was the second fatal crash on Mamalahoa Highway in Hamakua in a four-day period. Police said 17-year-old John DeLuz of Paauilo was killed late Friday afternoon when he got off a Hele-On bus near the intersection of Mamalahoa and Paauilo Mauka Road, ran in front of the bus out onto the highway, and was hit by a tractor-trailer truck driven by a 22-year-old Waimea man.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.