Thursday, September 11, 2003

Ice storm: Epidemic of the Islands

Donald Tominaga sweeps debris from his daughter Tracey's grave at the Valley of the Temples while his wife, Betty, holds a picture of Tracey's grave taken soon after she was buried. Their daughter's murder was linked to "ice" dealing.

‘Ice’ ties 2 families
in tragic connection

Jason Perry was convicted
for Tracey Tominaga's murder

Crystal methamphetamine brought Jason Perry and Tracey Tominaga together.

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Less than four months after they met, Tominaga, 37, was dead. Now Perry, 24, is spending the rest of his life in prison for her slaying.

"I don't think any of this would have happened if it weren't for methamphetamine and the profits that can be made from selling methamphetamine," said Deputy Prosecutor Chris Van Marter, who prosecuted Perry in May for Tominaga's murder.

The Tominaga-Perry story was a striking example of the amount of profits involved in "ice"; what people will do to protect their drugs, profits and status in the drug world; and how drugs can lead to lethal violence, Van Marter said.

Besides Perry, six other people face prison terms for their roles in Tominaga's murder. Perry is also serving a second life term for the murder of Edward Fuller. Fuller, who had been told about Tominaga's murder, was shot so he wouldn't go to police.

"It's a sad, sad story," said Tracey's mother, Betty Tominaga, recently at the family's Pacific Palisades home. "So many lives lost ..."

The Tominagas last saw Tracey alive Jan. 9, 2002, when she went to her parents' home to take her dog, Lani, to the vet. She was reported missing by friends Jan. 25, after she had not been seen or heard from for four days. By then she had been dead for four days.

Even after her body was uncovered in a shallow grave in Makakilo 2 1/2 months later, the Tominagas were not allowed to view it because it was so decomposed. Her family buried her cremated remains at the Valley of the Temples.

"It's hard that we didn't get a chance to say goodbye," said Tracey's father, Donald Tominaga.

When his parents received the call that Jason Perry had been arrested April 4, 2002, they were in disbelief. Hearing his account of what had transpired in Makakilo with Tominaga was even more shocking.

"It was devastating," said Tari Perry, who married Perry's father in 1996. "Here was this child that he loved and reared, and all of a sudden ... Nobody wants to hear their child has murdered somebody or was involved in something so heinous. Just where do you go from here?"

She added, "People think, 'Yeah it's horrible' and 'Those poor people,' but you don't really realize the emotion the family carries when something like this happens." They got physically ill, suffering from vomiting, diarrhea and nightmares trying to make sense of what happened.

"It's so overwhelming when something like this happens, and it's not just for Jason and our family, but for what the Tominagas and their daughter have gone through," Tari Perry said.

Night after night, her husband curled up in the fetal position and cried, asking himself: What happened? What went wrong? What did I do? How could I not have seen this?

Neither family suspected that their children were involved in drugs, much less ice.

In late July 2001, Perry, then 22, had just moved back into his parents' Kailua home from the Big Island when he met up with friends from high school and started dealing ice.

"From the time he got involved with these people to the time he got arrested, we're talking six months," said his mother, Cathy Tilley.

"We always had a good relationship, but now all of a sudden, he's too busy for Mom, too busy for the family. That's not Jason," she said. "Then again, he's a young adult, gotta give him space."

Something wasn't quite right but they didn't know what.

When they confronted him, "Of course he says 'no, no, no,' and as a parent, you go 'OK, OK, OK.' ... We were concerned, but I have to admit, being in middle-class America, I was clueless about ice," Tilley said. "I had no idea it was such a devastating drug.

"You hear about it, but don't understand the addiction, the attraction and how it takes over your life."

Donald and Betty Tominaga hold a family picture that includes their murdered daughter, Tracey Tominaga. Also in the portrait are their sons, Richard, left, and Darren.

Tari Perry, who had used ice before quitting 10 years ago, said her stepson had stopped by their home a month or two before his arrest to discuss a business proposition. Perry was talking quickly and was short with his younger sister, she said.

After Jason left, "I told my husband, 'He's using -- he's high right now,'" she said. Her husband didn't want to believe it. "You don't want to believe that of your child," she said.

Jason came by a few days later, but this time, he was cleaned up and talked slower. She pointed out to her husband later that it's a game ice users play.

"When you're a user and you do something that gets someone on your trail and knows what you're doing, you want to cover really good," she said.

Tracey Tominaga was raised along with her older sister and two younger brothers in the Pacific Palisades home her parents purchased 40 years ago, attended Pearl City schools and moved out on her own after graduation, her mother said.

An "independent free spirit" is how her mother describes Tracey, whose smiling face pops up often in photographs adorning the walls of their one-story home.

She moved back home a few times but had moved out again in October 2001 to live with a friend in Kapahulu, closer to her job in Waikiki. After a variety of jobs after high school, Tracey worked at Hilton Hawaiian Village for many years.

Van Marter, the prosecutor, recalls sitting down with the Tominagas to explain why their daughter had been killed and that she had been using ice.

"They were adamant their daughter would never use meth, would never be involved in drugs or be around people who used drugs," he said. "It was a great tragedy for the Tominaga family to find out about all of this."

Donald Tominaga, a retired plumber, said he was basically ignorant about drugs.

"I didn't know what to look for," he said. "To me, she looked normal in all respects."

Although Tracey was no longer living at home, she came home occasionally and on holidays to visit.

Betty Tominaga, a retired nurse, said they never asked Tracey if she was using drugs because she didn't behave any differently when she did come home.

"But there's part of their private life that's private, so you just don't know," she said.

Cathy Tilley, Jason Perry's mother, at her home in Kailua.

According to Tracey's roommates, she had apparently been introduced to ice by a co-worker at the Hilton sometime in September 2001, Van Marter said. She may have been smoking it once or twice a week at most.

Perry said at trial that when he returned from the Big Island, a high school classmate, Delaneo Puha, came by with another friend, Ryan Onuma, and they drove to Lanikai Beach. His friends opened a black duffel bag and showed him the contents: $26,000 in cash and some ice.

Puha told them that if they wanted to make money selling ice, they could make $400 to $1,000 a day delivering it but had to find their own customers, Perry said. Puha told them he was making $32,000 to $35,000 a pound. (Puha's attorney disputes claims that his client was a major ice dealer, saying there was no solid evidence of that at trial. Puha did not testify.)

Before long, Perry and Onuma were business partners. Puha would give them one to four ounces of ice at a time, and they would meet their runners -- people who sold drugs for them -- to make the drop-off, Perry said. They sold ice islandwide.

Perry testified he met Tominaga in October 2001 through a runner for Onuma. Perry was told Tominaga could move at least an "8 ball" -- roughly 3.5 grams of crystal meth -- per day. He gave her his cell number.

Tominaga called Perry for an 8 ball a few days later, and they met at Ala Moana Center. "She seemed like everyone else we knew hustling drugs for us -- willing to make money so she could smoke," Perry said.

They met at a bench near Sears and exchanged the 8 ball, worth $300, by placing it into a drink cup as they talked and switching cups, he said.

Tominaga would call Onuma two to three times a week, usually for an 8 ball, he said. They would meet at the Pagoda Hotel or other Waikiki hotel rooms, in parking lots or at Ala Moana or Ward Warehouse where they felt more comfortable doing the exchange.

The drug sold itself, Perry testified. "People are so addicted to ice, no matter what the price, they would pay," he said. Half an ounce of ice went for $1,200.

On Jan. 18, Perry said, he went to Tominaga's Brokaw Street apartment to drop off a half-ounce she had requested. While he was there, a friend of Tominaga's pointed a shotgun at him and robbed him of $600 worth of ice and some cash.

Perry testified he drove Tominaga to a remote cabin in Makakilo three days later to persuade her to give the name of her friend who had threatened and robbed him. He said he had no intention of hurting her.

But when they arrived and were joined by another carload of acquaintances whom Perry said he hadn't invited, his plan went wrong.

Perry said he pointed a gun at Tominaga to scare her into giving up her friend's name, and the others jumped in.

Tominaga was beaten and cut with a knife. She was struck on the head with a branch the diameter of a baseball bat. The impact split her head open and knocked her down. She was kicked, punched, slapped and stomped on. Her face was slashed with a butterfly knife. She began suffocating after one of them wrapped eight layers of duct tape around her head.

As she lay on the ground, Perry testified, he placed his hand on her throat to check her pulse but found himself pressing down hard. He said he didn't know if that killed her. But when he took his hand off her, she was still. When another man struck her in the stomach with a shovel three times, she stopped breathing, Perry testified.

Van Marter was taken aback at how emotionless her attackers were.

"A fellow human being was being beaten and tortured, and no one lifted a finger to help her," he said.

The Tominagas had attended the earlier trial for Puha, who was convicted of criminal conspiracy, attempted assault and hindering prosecution in Tracey's death, and had to relive the horror of that violent scene at Perry's trial.

"It's hard to sit here and imagine the pain and suffering she went through," Donald Tominaga said. "If I wasn't a Christian, I would be a totally different person."

Cathy Tilley said Jason Perry had been an outgoing, fun-loving kid who sometimes drove his mom crazy, "but you love 'em to death." He played sports, including soccer and basketball, and was a star pitcher on his Little League team. He went to Catholic schools until he switched to Kailua High School his sophomore year, Tilley said.

He ended up getting his GED because he was short of credits his senior year. After high school he struggled to find jobs and worked in construction and as a greeter at the airport. He even took a few college classes.

Perry was basically a law-abiding citizen until he became a drug dealer and started smoking ice, Van Marter said.

"All of sudden, he had large quantities of cash, he was going to strip clubs and hanging around a lot of women, spending a lot of time in hotel rooms, was constantly partying and he took on the personality of a major criminal figure," Van Marter said.

When he was disrespected and robbed of money and drugs, "it's just not good business as a drug dealer to get ripped off and not do something," Van Marter said.

After the trial, both families, who had sat on opposite sides of the courtroom throughout the proceedings, embraced outside the courtroom and said how sorry they were.

Their lives will never be the same, Tilley said. Jason's sister, Star, who he was close to, regrets he won't be present at her wedding. And, "he's never going to sit down again to Thanksgiving dinner with me," Tilley said.

They turn to prayers and one another for comfort. They cherish the opportunity to visit and talk with Jason at Halawa Correctional Facility, even if it's behind a glass partition where they can't touch or kiss him.

The Tominagas pray.

Their unwavering Christian faith and the support of their church have helped them get through this last year and a half.

"We pray for Perry, too," says Betty Tominaga, who has been caring for her cancer-ridden father on the Big Island since the trial.

Donald Tominaga drives over the H-3 every Sunday after church to bring fresh flowers to his daughter's grave at the Valley of the Temples.

He misses his daughter particularly during holidays when they gather as a family.

"She would always say to me, 'I love you,'" Tominaga said. "I miss that."


A town on the Big Island battles a drug that threatened to overtake the small community.


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