Man held in fatal Big Island crash
Vernon Costa, 41, is arrested in a murder investigation into two women's deaths
HILO » Big Island police are holding a 41-year-old Puna man for investigation of murder in the deaths of two women in a West Hawaii car crash Sunday morning described as a case of road rage.
Vernon Emile Costa was arrested yesterday afternoon in the rural Eden Roc subdivision in Puna for investigation of one count of first-degree murder (involving two or more victims), two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. The site is about 90 miles from the West Hawaii site of the crash, which took place just after midnight Saturday.
Costa was found in bushes in the heavily wooded subdivision, police said. He was not immediately charged.
Police also released the names of the two women killed when they were thrown from their 1987 Honda Civic onto lava rocks in the 12:11 a.m. crash. They are Pua Lei Santa-Isabel, 26, driver of the car, and Carey Ann Swain, 35, a back-seat passenger, both from Hilo.
Police had sought Costa and asked for the public's help since a woman in the crashed car named him in a 911 cell phone call from the car before the accident, they said.
That woman, a 19-year-old from Hilo, was the only person to survive the crash. Police have not released her identity.
She was taken by an unidentified driver to North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea, where she was treated and released.
Her call was one of three cell phone 911 calls police received from the car.
In at least one of the cell phone calls, a woman in the car told police that the driver following them was her ex-boyfriend.
Police confirmed yesterday that Costa had a prior relationship with the 19-year-old, although the relationship ended six months ago. There was a history of abuse in the relationship, and the young woman had filed a restraining order against Costa but the order had expired, they said.
Official police statements initially described the crash as a case of road rage and continued to do so in updates.
An early account by police indicated that events started at about the 23-mile marker on the upland Mamalahoa Highway, a relatively narrow road from Kona to Waimea through dry grasslands and old lava rock fields. Five miles farther toward Waimea, following the cell phone calls, the crash took place.
The crash between Costa's 1998 Dodge Dakota truck and the women's car was intentional, police determined.
Arriving officers found the women's Honda "extensively damaged" off a shoulder of the road. The suspect's Dodge pickup was less severely damaged, but police did not immediately determine if it could be driven, they said. The two vehicles were eventually towed to a police holding area in Kona.
How Costa got from West Hawaii through Waimea and Hilo to Puna without his truck was not immediately clear. Although police had said Costa was from Puna, it was unclear whether he was arrested near his own home.
Court records showed that Costa has a record of 26 offenses going back to 1983, none of them felonies. The offenses include seven third-degree assaults, all misdemeanors, although one of the offenses appeared to be a double entry of a single offense. The longest he spent in jail was two months.
Among traffic offenses, he was found guilty in 2002 of driving under the influence of an intoxicant, for which he was sentenced to 90 days' suspension of his license and a $150 fine. He also had an instance of resisting an order to stop and a taillight violation.
There were also 10 instances of failing to appear in court.
Police ask anyone with information about the case to call Detective Mark Haggerty at 326-4646, ext. 277, or CrimeStoppers at 961-8300.