Thursday, May 30, 2002

Bridge victim was
planning return to isles

The Arkansas River tragedy
kills a former North Shore resident

By Rod Antone

Paul Tailele Jr. was 17 when he left Laie for the mainland 22 years ago but he had planned to move back this summer.

Yesterday, his brother Peter Tailele learned that Paul's body was one of those recovered from the Arkansas River after a bridge collapsed in Oklahoma last weekend.

"We got the news about lunch time. ... They pulled him out Monday evening," Peter Tailele said. "He was moving back here in August so his boy could play for Kahuku (High School).

"He was a good person, hard-working. Everything he did was for his children up there."

The death toll from the highway bridge collapse near Webbers Falls, Okla., climbed to 14 yesterday when the body of a 3-year-old girl was found floating in the Arkansas River a half-mile downstream.

The captain of the towboat that was pushing the barge, which crashed into the bridge, has told investigators he blacked out before the crash.

After recovering the girl's body, authorities called off the search, saying they believed they had found all the victims and vehicles in the water.

"They have exhausted every hot spot," said Lt. Brandon Kopepasah of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard planned to leave the area, but divers would be called back if more vehicles or bodies are found under the concrete and debris during the salvage operation.

Divers and crews using sonar and a large crane pulled 10 vehicles from the water.

Yesterday was the first hot, dry day since the accident. Divers were kept out of the water for hours Monday and Tuesday because of rain and lightning.

National Guardsmen combed the tree-lined banks of the river for clothing, books and other items from vehicles after they plunged 62 feet into the 11-foot-deep water.

The crash leaves families like the Taileles trying to figure out what to do next. For now, Peter Tailele said the task is to try and get custody of his brother's 13-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter so that they can live with their relatives in Hawaii.

"That's what he would have wanted," Tailele said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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