Car crash survivors call for caution
One man says that a park road should be straightened out
Authorities say "excessive speed and alcohol" contributed to a traffic accident late Friday that killed five people and critically injured a driver on a highway inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.
And the only two survivors of the crash are calling for better safety measures on what they say is a dangerous stretch of road. Antony Gross and Daniel Roland Fisher, both island residents who were involved in the three-vehicle crash, said the road's 55 mph speed limit should be lowered and its lanes widened.
"The road should be straightened out, and the trees should be taken down," said Fisher, 43, who escaped injury except for a badly bruised elbow. "There's a hairpin turn that is hard to make."
At about 10 p.m. Friday, the two waiters from Volcano House had just gotten on the road after ending their shifts when they say a speeding sport utility vehicle missed a turn by the 28-mile marker on Highway 11, crossing the center lane and slamming head-on with a 2006 Chrysler Sebring convertible rental car. The SUV, a 2005 Porsche that was headed toward Kau, then hit Gross' 2004 Chevrolet Monte Carlo before coming to a stop, according to Fisher.
All three Volcano residents who were inside the SUV died. They were identified yesterday as Samuel H. Furtado, 55, Loretta Kae Rafferty, 46, and Lucia Clearwater, 60. Also killed were 32-year-old Candice Shonah Chisholm and 33-year-old Owen Lloyd Romaine, both of Vancouver, Canada. The accident shut down the highway for five hours as police investigated the scene and cleared the wreckage.
Mardie Lane, a park ranger, said investigators are waiting for autopsy results scheduled to be released this week to find out whether victims had their seat belts on. She could not provide any more details.
While there are no plans to improve the road, Lane said park rangers and police would "take a close look" at the section where the accident happened.
She noted that thousands of park visitors and workers drive on that road every year without incident. The last traffic fatality on that portion of the highway happened in 1996, Lane said, when one person died in a three-car collision.
Speaking in pain from his hospital bed, Gross, who suffered extensive damage to his legs, breaking his left femur in five places and shattering his right ankle, urged drivers to be cautious when taking the highway and avoid drinking.
"There have been so many accidents, and so many of them have been alcohol- or drug-related," said Gross, a 37-year-old Keaau resident, who was airlifted from Hilo Medical Center to the Queen's Medical Center for about six hours of surgery. "The consequences can be severe. For Sam (Furtado) they were."
Fisher, who is from Volcano, said all three SUV victims were regular customers at the Volcano House. He could not clearly remember signs of alcohol at the crash site, saying only that he saw bloody red cups on the road.
It will take Gross, who is 6 feet tall, at least half a year before he can walk again, said his sister, Barrie Butchart, 44. And even then, she said, doctors fear one of his legs might heal shorter.
"We are just so grateful he's alive, but we are so angry," said Butchart, who dropped her phone in panic after being told of the accident on Friday. "Going through this kind of pain for absolutely no reason in the world is beyond comprehension."
There have been 30 traffic fatalities on the Big Island this year, compared with 31 at the same time last year, police said. The figures do not include Friday's accident because it happened under the park's jurisdiction.