The bodies of two Maui girls were found Sept. 23 in an irrigation ditch in East Maui. Lucy Smith, 13, and Cherie Hurd, 14, had been pulled through irrigation tubes.
Girl’s drowning prompts lawsuit
A Maui couple is suing the company that owns the ditch system where their daughter drowned in September while rafting.
Theodore La Torre-Gomez and Katherine Hurd are the parents of 14-year-old Cherie Hurd, who along with her 13-year-old friend Lucy Marie Smith drowned Sept. 23 when they were sucked in through siphons, tubes used to transport water across wide gulches.
The irrigation ditches are owned and controlled by East Maui Irrigation Co., a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin Inc.
Police believe the girls entered the ditch off Peahi Road. One of the girls was pulled through three tubes, or siphons, while the other was pulled through one.
The lawsuit alleges that the company has been neglecting safety measures, such as fences, around the ditches, and has failed to warn the public about the dangers of being sucked into the tubes.
"The fix was long known to them, and they didn't do anything about it," said the parents' attorney, James Krueger. "They have, over the years, had small animals sucked into them. We want to see the company make these things safe."
The two King Kekaulike High School students had gone rafting at a place called the "Tubes" and did not return.
Residents said the waterway is calm but is marked by a series of tubes that suck and shoot out water with some force downstream.
Police found one body in Lowrie Ditch, east of West Kuiaha and Haiku roads. They found the second body less than a mile away.
The East Maui Irrigation Co. system is a complex and extensive irrigation ditch system made up of 74 miles of ditches, tunnels, inverted siphons and flumes.
The system provides water to Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Co., Upcountry Maui residents and farmers, and the Kula Agricultural Park.
Garret Hew, president of the irrigation company, declined comment on the lawsuit because he had not seen it as of yesterday afternoon. Hew said the company continues to express its condolences to the Hurd and Smith families.
"The EMI ditch system has been a part of the Maui community for over 130 years and has played a vital role in providing water necessary for our local community," Hew said. "And we will continue to work with the community in promoting ditch safety."
The lawsuit seeks damages from the company, including funeral and burial expenses. But, Krueger said, the lawsuit's main goal is to bring awareness to the area and to the dangers of the siphons.
"This is just one of those circumstances where unfortunately maybe litigation is the only thing," Krueger said. "The citizenry need protection, and this is not something that was clear. ... There's no warning to the public, and we want all that changed."