— ADVERTISEMENT —
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
"If you have a fatality, you have to investigate a crime scene," Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa said in response to complaints from numerous motorists. "It's a major, major setback. ... Traffic is backed up, but there's a body at the scene, and you have to wait for the medical examiner and you can't move it until then.
"No matter what happens, we're always going to be criticized," he said.
Cynthia Gakiya, a 52-year-old Pearl City resident, was pronounced dead at the scene after the 1:30 p.m. three-car accident before the Waimalu/Pearl City offramp just east of the Kaahumanu Street overpass.
In the traffic investigation that followed, H-1 Ewa-bound was closed for nearly three hours. The closure paralyzed traffic all the way to Waikiki during busy holiday and rush-hour traffic. The residual effect lasted past 7 p.m., police said.
But Police Maj. Michael Tucker said he considered the two hours it took for the investigation as "really fast considering the debris pattern."
Officers arriving on the scene must assess the accident, the severity of the injuries and distinguish the accident debris from other roadway debris before starting their actual investigation, Tucker said.
"Our investigators are very sensitive to not only the freeway itself, but the impact on all surface streets and, of course, they are bound to complete their investigation as complete as possible given the limits of what they're confronted with," he said.
Tucker said the police department reviews its policies every time such an event occurs. He said there is pressure to do the job as diligently as possible and the time it takes is unique to each accident. Police must also try to confirm witness statements.
"We really apologize for the necessary inconvenience, given the challenges of all the roads leading into that one area," Tucker said.
"Challenges remain: being sensitive to the commuting public, being sensitive to the victims of this tragedy, being aware of what is necessary should any of this go to court, whatever form of court it is, whether civil or criminal," he said.
Tucker said one lane of the freeway was open for all but 40 minutes during the investigation. But onramps that fed into the area near Waimalu were shut, police said.
Tucker said investigators who arrived from downtown Honolulu took about two hours to investigate.
About 4 p.m., there was a partial opening of the freeway, and most lanes were opened by 4:40 p.m.
The big picture, Tucker said, is: "We either got too many cars or too little roadways."
Tucker said that according to mainland traffic experts who train the HPD traffic investigators, Honolulu police are doing what others do around the country. The difference is that there are alternate routes in other cities, he said.
Correa said other police departments face the same challenges Honolulu does when investigating traffic collisions. "Hawaii is not unique," he said.
Motorist James Filippone of Ewa complained that shutting the freeway interferes with the lives of thousands of residents and businesses. It "shuts down more than half the population," he said.
The Medical Examiner's Office identified the 52-year-old woman killed Monday afternoon in the H-1 freeway traffic accident as Cynthia Gakiya of Pearl City.
Police said Gakiya was speeding.
The accident occurred about 1:30 p.m. before the Waimalu/Pearl City offramp just east of the Kaahumanu Street overpass.
Police said the Ewa-bound Gakiya, who was driving a brown, four-door 1993 Toyota Camry on the far right lane, suddenly veered to the left to avoid stopped traffic, and into the path of a van traveling in the same direction.
The crash forced the 1994 Ford van, driven by a 54-year-old Mililani man, and Gakiya's car into the third and fourth lanes, where a 1998 Jeep, also traveling in the same direction, collided with the van.
Gakiya died at the scene before paramedics arrived, an Emergency Medical Services supervisor said.
The Jeep driver, a 29-year-old Waipahu woman, and the van driver were uninjured. Both wore seat belts, but police are not sure if Gakiya was wearing one.
This was the 68th traffic fatality on Oahu for the year as compared with 78 at the same time last year.