By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
So far, 2013 has been a deadly year on Big Island roads, with official traffic fatalities on pace to eclipse last year’s death toll of 38.
There have been 10 official traffic fatalities this year plus two that police don’t count toward the total — one because it occurred on private property and the other because the driver died due to a medical condition that caused him to cross the center line and hit another vehicle on Highway 11 near Pahala, killing four others.
“The fatalities have come in spurts,” said Hawaii Police Sgt. Christopher Gali, the island’s traffic enforcement chief. “I cannot predict what’s gonna happen. We’re out there doing enforcement and education, but those things are going to happen.”
Two bizarre vehicle-related deaths have occurred within the past week.
On Friday, 3-year-old Treston S.C. Crowley of Hilo was killed in Eden Roc when a pickup truck he was playing in on an Ohia Avenue driveway went into neutral. The child either jumped or fell out, and the truck rolled over him, killing him, police said. According to Gali, the boy was in the care of his grandfather at the time.
“They were building a house or doing some construction on the property,” he said. “They didn’t know that he was in the vehicle. I believe the grandfather and whoever he was with was doing construction and they took their eyes off the child. If you’re going to be doing work where you’ve got to focus on what you’re doing, and you’re also caring for a child, you have to make sure you know where that child is, or that someone else is watching the child when you’re doing whatever job you’re doing.
“I think it shows you need to lock your vehicle up so the child doesn’t have any access into the car. And if you’re charged with taking care of a child, especially one that’s 3 years old, you need to know where that child is at all times.”
The toddler’s death occurred on private property, so it is not part of the official yearly count. A coroner’s inquest has been opened in the case.
Then on Saturday night, 53-year-old pedestrian Pamela G. Wilson of Hilo was killed by a car on the mauka shoulder of Highway 19 near Bayshore Towers condominium on the northern outskirts of Hilo. Police say that Wilson, who used a walker, was at a crosswalk apparently trying to cross the road when a Hilo-bound car driven by a 37-year-old Volcano man struck her.
A negligent homicide investigation has been opened by police.
“We did do a mandatory blood draw on the driver, but right now we don’t suspect any alcohol or drugs,” Gali said. Neither the driver nor his 3-year-old son, who was in a child car seat, was injured. Gali said that whether the driver was distracted by the child or by other factors is part of the investigation.
“We did talk to the driver,” he said. “There’s a possibility that there was something with the child and he was distracted. That’s part of the investigation. We’re also checking cell phone records, making sure that he wasn’t on the cell phone or texting anybody. There are still things we have to look into.”
Gali said there was a streetlight at the crosswalk and “that night it seemed well lit.”
“Once our case is complete, it will be forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for a charging decision,” he said.
Police are asking that anyone with information or who witnessed the crash to call Officer Paul Kim at 333-9708.
Wilson’s death is the second of a pedestrian on a highway shoulder in less than a month, and Crowley’s is the second time this year a 3-year-old boy was killed by a pickup truck after falling out of the vehicle.
On Feb. 28, 71-year-old Francisco Asuncion of Kealakekua was killed by a hit-and-run driver on the shoulder of Highway 11 near Hokukano road in Kealakekua.
Police have made no arrests in the case but are hoping that the driver a witness will come forward. A surveillance video showed a “dark-colored Nissan sedan,” police said.
“It wasn’t a good quality video,” Gali said. “Right now, all we’re looking for is a dark-colored Nissan, but we’re hoping for some tips.” He said it is possible the driver was intoxicated. Police say the car should have sustained damage to the front bumper, hood and possibly the windshield.
Witnesses to the hit-and-run collision or anyone with information is asked to call Officer Larry Flowers at 326-4646, ext. 249.
Gali said that Wilson’s and Asuncion’s deaths illustrate why drivers “need to look out for pedestrians, even if they’re on the side of the road.”
“Stay off your phones when you’re driving. Don’t drink and drive. Look ahead to see if there are pedestrians on the roadway or on the side of the roadway. Just drive carefully,” he said.
The other toddler killed when run over by a pickup truck was 2013’s first traffic fatality.
On Jan. 9, 3-year-old Joel Peter of Kailua-Kona died after falling out of the cab of his father’s pickup truck and being run over on the shoulder area of Highway 190 leading to the driveway of Matsuyama Store in Kalaoa. Police say a sister of the boy thought their father had parked the truck and opened the rear passenger door, causing the boy to fall out. The toddler’s father, 38-year-old Pedro Peter, didn’t know the child had fallen out of the truck, continued up the driveway and ran over the child, police said.
Pedro Peter has been charged with manslaughter and several other offenses, and is scheduled to stand trial June 18 at 9 a.m. before Kona Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra.
“He should have known there was some sort of danger,” Gali said. “He’d been cited several times for child restraint violations. He should have known that something could happen if you don’t have your child secured in the car seat.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.