By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A 61-year-old Hilo man who was one of two drivers killed in a Sunday night traffic collision on Hawaii Belt Road between Papaikou and Pepeekeo was a retired educator who owned a food and coffee concession at Hilo International Airport.
Miles Nakanishi was the owner of Uncle Miles Kitchens, which started from a catering business. Nakanishi had retired “a couple of years ago” from Hilo High School, where he was a school-to-work coordinator, Principal Robert Dircks said Monday afternoon.
“He was outstanding,” Dircks said. “… He had established some great connections with the various businesses where our students would be able to work during the course of the year to earn credit. And also during the summer they could earn some money and learn some skills or a trade, depending on what the business was.”
Dircks described Nakanishi as “very sociable and successful in whatever endeavors he wanted to pursue.”
“It was a shock; I just didn’t expect that,” he said.
Police say Nakanishi was driving a 2005 Cadillac Escalade south on Highway 19 when a northbound 1999 Chevrolet pickup truck driven by a 65-year-old Hakalau man apparently crossed the center line and collided with Nakanishi’s sport-utility vehicle.
Both Nakanishi and the other driver, whom police have not yet identified pending notification of relatives, were dead at the scene, police said.
Police Sgt. Christopher Gali of the Traffic Enforcement Unit said he doesn’t believe the pickup’s driver has any relatives in Hawaii.
“He may have a wife or an ex-wife on the mainland,” Gali said. He added that police will do a fingerprint identification.
Two children who were passengers in the Cadillac, a 6-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, were flown to The Queen’s Medical Center and Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in Honolulu and were in critical condition, police said.
Nakanishi’s 60-year-old wife, Denise Sheppard Nakanishi, a Realtor at Prudential Orchid Isle Properties, and an 80-year-old woman who was also a passenger in the Escalade were admitted to Hilo Medical center in serious condition.
Denise Sheppard Nakanishi’s Facebook page showed numerous posts from friends expressing condolences and prayers for her and her family.
John Masuhara, retired Hilo High principal, said that Miles Nakanishi went above and beyond his job description, often working nights and weekends and helping with the school’s co-curricular activities.
“All anyone needed to do was ask and he was there,” Masuhara said. “It’s sad. He was a valuable member of this community.”
Charlene Masuhara, a special needs counselor at Hilo High and John Masuhara’s wife, said that Nakanishi had survived a health scare earlier this year.
“He had what he thought was a heart attack,” she said. “But when he went to the doctor, they found out that there was a blockage in his heart. … And so they fixed all of that and he was better and he had lost weight. And he was doing really good.”
“I think people were shocked,” Charlene Masuhara added, “because they knew he had that little medical incident a few months ago.”
She said that Nakanishi was “really ahead of the curve” when it came to making sure students, even college-bound ones, got a taste of the workplace environment.
“He understood how important it was to make that connection with the world of work.”
She added that Nakanishi “loved to cook and he would always share his food with everybody.”
“He was really down to earth, a good guy. He’ll be missed,” she said.
Police say they don’t know yet if speed, alcohol or drugs were factors in the crash.
A negligent homicide investigation has been ordered and autopsies will be performed today, according to Gali.
The deaths are the 34th and 35th official traffic fatalities on the Big Island this year compared to 16 at this time last year.
“We’re having a bad year,” said Gali. “We’ve got a 100-plus percent increase in fatalities.” He urged drivers to obey posted speed limits and to not drink or take drugs and drive.
Anyone with information about the collision is asked to call Officer Tuckloy Aurello at 961-8119.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.