Hawaii Tongans mourn prince and princess, killed in California crash
SAN FRANCISCO » Two royal family members from the South Pacific island nation of Tonga were killed Wednesday night when a teenager racing her car crashed into their sport utility vehicle, authorities said yesterday.
Prince Tu'ipelehake, 56, and Princess Kaimana, 46, died in the freeway crash in Menlo Park, about 30 miles south of San Francisco, according to Senter Uhilamoelangi, a distant relative and longtime friend of the prince.
Uhilamoelangi, 59, said the couple had arrived in the San Francisco Bay area earlier this week to discuss political reforms in Tonga with members of the region's Tongan community. Uhilamoelangi, a Tongan native and East Palo Alto resident, helped arrange the visit.
Tu'ipelehake, a nephew of 88-year-old King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, was the leading reformist in the royal family. He was head of a national committee studying democratic reforms for the kingdom.
"His voice we'll never hear again, but his legacy is going to live on," Uhilamoelangi said. "He was a good leader because he took the voice of the people all the way to the House of Parliament and carried it all the way to the king."
The deaths stunned the Tongan community, which was just finishing celebrations of ailing King Tupou IV's birthday on July 4. Tu'ipelehake had been in the United States as chairman of the National Committee for Political Reform and was planning to visit San Bruno, the first of many stops at Tongan communities in the United States. He was scheduled to travel to Seattle after visiting the Bay area and then visit Oahu, Maui and the Big Island next week before heading home, said Tapu Kitea, Prince Tu'ipelehake's daughter-in-law.
Tongans in Hawaii described the couple as religious, caring partners who would always make themselves available to talk to anyone in the community.
"Everybody is just in shock and disbelief," said Annie Kaneshiro, honorary consular agent at the Tongan Consular Agency in Honolulu.
The Rev. Eddie Kelemeni of the First United Methodist Church in Honolulu said the couple's sudden death was a blow to the Tongan community in Hawaii.
"It is a shock to the whole country. This unexpected death shocked everybody," he said.
Kelemeni, a University of Hawaii graduate who moved here from Tonga in the 1970s, said he last saw Tu'ipelehake and Kaimana in February during a wedding at the Elks Club. "She was dancing, she was having fun. They are very people-oriented, very friendly. People respected them so much," he said.
Vinisia Hefa, 36, of East Palo Alto, who was driving the red Ford Explorer carrying the prince and princess, also was killed, the California Highway Patrol said.
Edith Delgado, 18, of Redwood City allegedly was racing her car at speeds up to 100 mph on a highway in Menlo Park when she tried to pass the SUV the royal couple was traveling in, said highway patrol officer Ricky Franklin.
Delgado's car slammed into the driver's side of the Explorer, causing it to swerve across several lanes before tumbling to a stop on its roof, Franklin said.
Delgado, who was not injured, was jailed on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and engaging in a speed contest, Franklin said.
The Associated Press and Star-Bulletin reporter Alexandre Da Silva contributed to this report.