Cesspool death leaves void
A Tongan immigrant leaves relatives and good friends who will miss the family man
Pauu Pooi came to Hawaii for a better life and to support his wife's pursuit of a master's degree in business from the University of Hawaii, his best friend said yesterday.
"I was just mad and upset and holding back tears," said John Pauni, 27, about learning that his friend and the father of three had died after falling into a cesspool in Laie. "It's a shock to me, all of a sudden to see somebody just disappear and be gone like that."
Rescuers recovered Pooi's body after a grim rescue effort that lasted about nine hours. Pooi had been working as a subcontractor as part of a project to convert houses to a sewer system when the ground collapsed and he fell about 30 feet into about 10 feet of sludge. A witness said he raised his arms in surprise when the ground collapsed and he fell in.
For two months, Pooi, 34, had been working as a subcontractor. But that was only a side job for Pooi, known by Laie contractors for his landscaping company. His company employed about four people, friends said.
Pooi is survived in Honolulu by wife Nofomuli, three daughters -- ages 10, 7 and 4 -- and his father-in-law. The family planned to meet yesterday evening to decide whether to have Pooi's funeral in Hawaii or send his body back to Tonga, where he has more family members, said Valu Pauni, Pooi's bishop at the Tongan Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Pauni said he visited the family on Wednesday to offer prayers and comfort.
"I know she miss the husband. Every time you talk about the husband, she cries," he said of Pooi's wife.
Pooi came to Hawaii from Kolomotua Nukualofa, Tonga, about 1996. He worked about six years as a landscaper in Honolulu before working for his father-in-law's landscaping business and later opening his own.
"He's the kind of man that he loved to work, and I can see him every day working," Pauni said. "Anything he do, he want to lead it, and anybody will follow him."
Pauni's son John said he became friends with Pooi about four years ago, and they attended church together. The Poois moved into the same duplex next door to Pauni after he told them about the vacancy.
"He teased everybody. He made everybody laugh all the time," said John Pauni, a Honolulu Community College student.
He said Pooi cherished his children and wife, who obtained her degree from UH. Every weekend, Pooi made time for his girls, taking them to a movie, a flea market or ice skating.
Once a week, Pooi would leave his vehicle at home and take the bus to meet his wife in Honolulu as she finished work as a consultant for H&R Block. They would take her van to catch a movie or attend a Tongan dance.
"He was really devoted to his wife," he said.
The Pooi and Pauni families meet every Sunday after church for dinner on a patch of grass in their front yard.
Pauni recalled that Pooi would make phone calls during the meal, inviting more people.
This Sunday, there will be a void at the dinner.
"This weekend's going to be weird," he said. "We're going to continue, but it's going to be weird without him here."