Thursday, July 24, 2003

Police investigated the crash scene near Honokai Hale on Farrington Highway yesterday. The charred ground at left was where police motorcycles landed and burned after colliding with the car on the median.

Cop, girl die
in accident

A box in the middle of
Farrington Highway leads
to a chain of collisions

Honolulu police said a cardboard box in the middle of Farrington Highway started a chain reaction of collisions that killed a 10-year-old girl and a police motorcycle officer, injured five other people and snarled Leeward traffic for hours yesterday.

The dead officer was identified as Ryan Keith Goto, 35, a 12-year veteran of the police force and the single parent of a 6-year-old son. Police did not identify the 10-year-old victim.

The crash occurred at 9:55 a.m. near the Honokai Hale subdivision as five motorcycle officers were heading toward the Waianae Coast. In the Honolulu-bound lanes, a female driver in a green Dodge Stratus was attempting to swerve around the cardboard box.

According to police, a white Ford Mustang then struck the Stratus from behind, sending it across the grassy median and into the path of the five motorcycle officers riding in formation. Three motorcycle officers struck the car, while two other officers swerved to the side and were not hit.

The impact sent the Stratus and the three police motorcycles careening into a culvert on the mauka side of Farrington Highway, where police said heat and leaking gasoline set the motorcycles on fire and also ignited nearby grass and brush. Bystanders and police officers who avoided the crash suffered minor burns as they pulled the victims out of the way of the flames, according to Fire Department officials.


The chaos at first closed both directions of traffic along Farrington Highway, but police later diverted westbound traffic onto a dirt road, while eastbound traffic moved slowly past the edge of the scene near Laaloa Street at Honokai Hale. The Army also opened Kolekole Pass to help alleviate traffic congestion.

Goto was riding in the front left-hand side of the formation, and the 10-year old girl was riding in the front passenger seat of the Stratus.

The crash injured officer David Bega Jr., 26, officer Paul Javier, 35, and the 10-year-old girl's mother, who was driving the vehicle. Two other girls, ages 9 and 11, were seated in the rear seat of the Stratus and suffered minor injuries.

Goto and the 10-year-old girl were taken to St. Francis-West Medical Center, where they were pronounced dead.

The two motorcycle officers and the driver of the Stratus were taken to the Queen's Medical Center, where the officers were reported in guarded condition and the woman in serious condition. The two girls who were seated in the rear of the Stratus were taken to Kapiolani Medical Center at Pali Momi, where they were reported in good condition.

Police investigators walked yesterday through the debris of police motorcycles that fell apart and burned in a crash and subsequent fire near Honokai Hale on Farrington Highway.

Honolulu fire officials said they believe that all three officers in the front of the formation struck the right side of the vehicle. By the time Honolulu firefighters arrived, a retired Fire Department captain had already begun cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the 10-year-old girl, said Capt. Kennard Kong, Makakilo Fire Station commander.

The girl's mother was conscious and alert and asking about the girl's condition, Kong said.

Honolulu police said this was the worst police motorcycle accident. The last police motorcycle fatality occurred in 1991 when officer Randal Young was killed after he was struck by a drunken driver as he issued a citation on Pali Highway.

Goto, a motorcycle police officer for the last five years, is the second police officer to die in the line of duty this year. Officer Glen Gaspar was fatally shot March 4 while trying to subdue a fugitive at a Kapolei ice cream shop.

"We're grieving right now; we've lost another officer this year," Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue said yesterday. "Our hearts go out to all the families touched by this tragedy, and our prayers are with all of them."

Police inspected the car that collided with the motorcycles.

Donohue visited both Bega and Javier in the hospital yesterday and said their injuries included broken arms and spinal injuries. Bega is a five-year HPD veteran with 1 1/2 years as a police motorcycle officer, while Javier is a 14-year veteran with three years as a police motorcycle officer.

Donohue said he talked to the fiance and father of Goto.

"(Ryan Goto) always had a smile on his face, very friendly," Donohue said. "It's a sad day for us, a tragedy.

"It could have been even worse -- we could have lost two others, and maybe four others. ... I guess for the grace of God they're here."

Traffic investigators said the cardboard box fell off of an eastbound GMC pickup truck shortly before the accident. The driver of the truck pulled onto the median and was attempting to retrieve the box but was unable to do so before the collision occurred.

Asked if anyone could face criminal charges in the case, Donohue said only that the crash is under investigation.

"We don't like to use the word accident. There was a collision and there's a cause for collision, and so we'll be investigating all that," he said.

Star-Bulletin reporter Nelson Daranciang contributed to this report.


Closure of 2 roads causes
snarled traffic for 5 hours

The accident that killed a police officer and a 10-year-old girl snarled traffic in both directions on Farrington Highway for about five hours yesterday.

Police closed Farrington Highway to eastbound traffic at Laaloa Street and closed the H-1 freeway to westbound traffic at the Campbell Industrial Park offramp shortly after the 9:55 a.m. accident.

Police opened the shoulder lanes of the roadways to motorists at about 11:30 a.m., but the highway and freeway remained closed.

Several detours allowed commuters to travel around the area police had closed off.

The military opened Kolekole Pass to allow access from Schofield Barracks to the Lualualei Naval Road area, according to state Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa.

Farrington Highway lanes in both directions were reopened by 3 p.m., Ishikawa said.

Police also opened a private dirt road on the west border of the Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park to allow Waianae-bound traffic to pass.

Rose Kitashima, who was traveling from town to her home in Honokai Hale, was directed to use the detour road, which took her "up through Makakilo, to Kapolei Shopping Center and through the back road behind the water park," she said. It took her 10 times as long to get home than on a normal traffic day, she added.

Kitashima's husband was also stuck in traffic as he headed from Kapolei to Honokai Hale.

"It took my husband over an hour to get home," she said. "Usually it would only take him three minutes."

The halt in traffic even affected some businesses as far away as Nanakuli.

"A lot of our morning appointments didn't make it," said Rina Lessary, a receptionist for Nanakuli Dental Office. "They called in a half-hour before their appointment to say they were already stuck in traffic."


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