Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Friends and relatives gathered at the Farrington Highway site in Makaha where four people died Monday night in a two-car crash. The mourners included Emma and Tou Vaesau, of Waianae, who were grieving their daughter Tina.

After the crash

A victim's mom describes
coming upon the wreck
on her way home

Honolulu police are investigating the involvement of a third car in Monday's traffic collision in Makaha that killed four people and injured three others.

Police have confiscated a white Honda that was abandoned at an undisclosed location in Waianae.

Witnesses told investigators that the driver of the Honda had been racing with a Nissan Altima just before the driver of the Nissan lost control and crashed into a Ford Explorer along Farrington Highway, about 357 feet west of Maiuu Road.

Police said that witnesses also told them that the driver of the Honda left the accident scene without stopping to help.

"Another person might have been involved in racing with the vehicles that got involved in the collision, and that vehicle might have stopped at the scene and left," said Maj. Brian Wauke of HPD's Traffic Division.

The four who died were, clockwise from bottom left, Tina Vaesau, 18, Vernaleina‘ale Eli, 24, Chris Mendoza, 19, and his brother Josh Mendoza, 18.

Police have questioned the Honda driver, Peter De La Cruz of Waianae, who contacted police on his own yesterday.

"He is under investigation as a witness and we have interviewed him," said Sgt. Alan Vegas of HPD's Traffic Investigation Detail.

De La Cruz told television stations KITV and KHNL that the Altima sped past him and he was trying to catch up because he recognized the passengers as some of his friends and coworkers.

"I guess he thought I was going to try and overtake him so he punched his car," De La Cruz said.

De La Cruz said he stopped at the accident scene, but left because there was nothing he could do to help.

Witnesses told police that the Honda and the Nissan were side by side going westbound on Farrington Highway at 7:12 p.m. when the Nissan got into the middle lane, lost control, swerved into the townbound lanes and collided with the Ford Explorer.

The resulting crash killed four people in the Nissan: 18-year-old Josh Mendoza; his 19-year-old brother, Chris Mendoza; Tina Vaesau, 18; and Vernaleina'ale Eli, 24, both of Waianae, who were sitting in the back seat. A third man who was also sitting in the back seat survived and is at the Queen's Medical Center.

The 18-year-old female driver of the Explorer and the 19-year-old male passenger were treated and released from Queen's Monday for minor injuries. Police said those in the Explorer were wearing seat belts and that both driver- and passenger-side airbags were deployed.

Ala Eli-Adams, the mother of victim Vernaleina'ale Eli, said the car belongs to her daughter, but that Josh Mendoza was driving.

Emma Vaesau sat in tears yesterday at the Makaha location where her daughter Tina, 18, a Waianae High School graduate, died along with three others in a car crash Monday night.

The Mendoza brothers, the injured man and Eli all worked for a temporary employment company, doing landscaping in Del Monte pineapple fields in Kunia, Eli-Adams said yesterday at her Makaha home.

On Monday, her daughter did not go to work because she had had gum surgery, Eli-Adams said. After the surgery, Eli insisted that she would drive to Kunia and pick up her friends from work, her mother said.

Eli-Adams tried to persuade her daughter not to go, saying she had a bad feeling about it.

Eli, a Farrington High graduate, left for Kunia just after 2 p.m. "and she never came back," Eli-Adams said, breaking into tears.

Normally the group -- Eli-Adams called the male victims her hanai nephews -- got home from Kunia by 3:30 p.m. and hung out together, she said.

Eli-Adams said she and a friend were driving back to Makaha from Barbers Point at about 8 p.m. Monday when they saw there was a wreck on Farrington. "I said 'That's my baby's car! That's my baby right there,' " she recalled.

Eli-Adams said that the injured man lives downstairs from her family in a four-plex, but would only identify him by his first name, Talo.

Family members of Vaesau, a 2003 graduate of Waianae High School, placed a poster-sized photograph of her attached to a white wooden cross at the accident scene just west of the Makaha Surfside Condominiums yesterday. The photo showed a smiling, brown-eyed young woman with a single plumeria blossom in her long brown hair.

As the afternoon wore on, people added carnations, roses, bougainvillea, ti leaves and marigolds to the memorial. Nearby stood a small, potted Norfolk pine tree decorated with gold Christmas balls and stuffed animals.

Her parents, Emma and Tou Vaesau, said they were too emotional to talk about their loss.

Waianae High School students Denise Feleti, Maka Atuatasi, and Henry Feleti, all cousins of Vaesau, reminisced about her as they waited for the bus after class yesterday. Vaesau liked roses, the color red and singing alto in the school chorus, they said.

But most of all, they were talking about how they don't like street racing.

"It's stupid," said Atuatasi.

Without it, "maybe she'd had been alive," Feleti said.

"She'd be right here," Atuatasi said as their bus pulled up.

Eli-Adams said perhaps the hardest thing was hearing that the driver of a white Honda fled the scene.

"I pray for that guy," Eli-Adams said shaking her head. "He gotta live with that."

Police are investigating whether drugs or alcohol or mechanical problems contributed to the collision.

Monday's traffic deaths brings the total number of fatals on Oahu to 80 so far this year, as compared to 66 fatalities for the same time last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Deadly accidents

Some of Hawaii's worst accidents:

>> March 18, 2003: Five males, ages 13 to 37, were killed about 1:30 a.m. on Kamehameha Highway in Haleiwa.

>> Nov. 9, 1995: Five people were killed and three hurt when the speeding car carrying all eight crashed into a wall and overturned on Kalanianaole Highway in Kuliouou.

>> Jan. 21, 1994: Five people died when a van plunged off a 40-foot embankment near Keawaula Bay (Yokohama Bay) and burned on the beach.

>> June 9, 1988: Five people died and three were injured when a speeding car crashed head-on into a tourists' van on Kalanianaole Highway at Makapuu.

>> 1988: Six people in a station wagon died when their car collided with a pickup truck that crossed the center line of Queen Kaahumanu Highway near Kawaihae on the Big Island.

>> Nov. 24, 1979: Five Brigham Young University-Hawaii students died and four people were hurt when a compact car and a pickup truck collided on Kamehameha Highway near Haleiwa.


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