CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Police investigated a van in Whitmore Village yesterday that was set on fire by a fallen utility line. Two men were injured in the Aheahe Avenue fire.
‘Troy is a hero’
A power line fell onto a parked minivan yesterday in Whitmore Village, sending the occupant to the hospital with severe burns after the van caught fire.
A passer-by who tried to save him was shocked and hospitalized.
"He just collapsed and went down shaking," said a neighbor, Carol Groff.
Eugene Fernandez, described to be in his 60s, who had reportedly lived in the van for 17 years, was listed in critical condition at Straub Clinic & Hospital. Troy Pace, described to be in his late 30s to early 40s, was upgraded to serious condition at Straub.
Firefighters responded to a call of an auto fire with a downed power line at 10 a.m. near 1142 Aheahe Ave.
Israel Infiel, who lives up the street, said he heard Fernandez screaming for help and saw the minivan in flames.
Groff said Pace was riding by on his bicycle, stopped and tried to open the driver's door with his left hand but collapsed.
A bystander told Pace to grab the end of a broomstick and was able to drag him away from the blaze. Pace suffered burns to his hands, arms and legs. Bryan Cheplic, spokesman for the Emergency Medical Services, said it was hard to say whether the burns were from electrocution or the fire.
"Troy is a hero," said Caprice Arruda, who attempted to pull him away from the minivan after he collapsed but could not get near him because of the live wire. "He'll help any time and anybody."
Capt. Terry Seelig, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department, said about half of the tan-colored Toyota minivan was on fire while Fernandez was trapped inside.
Once the fire was under control, firefighters shattered some of the van's windows to rescue Fernandez while avoiding the electrical line.
Fernandez was found between the minivan's two front seats.
The blaze was reported extinguished at 10:26 a.m.
Cheplic said firefighters and paramedics were able to get Fernandez's pulse back and clear his airway. He suffered burns to at least 50 percent of his body. He was taken to Wahiawa General Hospital, where he was stabilized and transported to Straub's burn unit.
His wife, Perla Omalza, lives at the Aheahe Avenue address with her parents, according to relatives. The van was parked under a mango tree and electrical wires near the home.
Fernandez had been living in the minivan for at least 17 years, Groff said. She noted that there was heavy intermittent rain Tuesday night in Whitmore Village. A light drizzle fell at the time the wire fell, area residents said.
Crew members from Hawaiian Electric Co. arrived later to remove the wire.
HECO spokesman Darren Pai said a preliminary investigation indicates there was a problem with a ceramic insulator on the power line. Fire investigators also are looking into the cause of the blaze.