Phillis Asiata and Richie Makana Chanco, grandmother and half brother of murder victim Cyrus Belt, live in Turkey.
Belt’s grandmother points finger at state
Phillis Asiata took her 13-month-old grandson Richie Chanco, now 5, halfway around the world to a small village in Turkey to protect him from his drug-addicted mother.
"I was told that my daughter left him alone at nighttime," she said. "Nancy would put him to sleep and go out at night. He'd be crying.
"When I first got Richie, you could see the trauma in his eyes," said Asiata, 60, who spoke by telephone last week from her home in Turkey. "I couldn't be out of his sight, or he'd be hysterical."
Asiata made her remarks while still reeling from the death of Richie's younger half brother, Cyrus Belt, after a plunge onto the H-1 freeway Jan. 17. Witnesses reported seeing a 23-year-old neighbor, Matthew Higa, drop the toddler from a pedestrian overpass.
Higa, who has a history of mental illness and crystal methamphetamine use, is charged with murder.
Belt's mother, Nancy Chanco, 33, tested positive for "ice" Jan. 11 after being treated for a sore eye at the Queen's Medical Center, prompting state child welfare workers to schedule a visit, but the boy died before it could take place.
Asiata questions why Child Welfare Services failed to protect Belt, the grandson she will never get to hold.
"How do they give a baby back to a mother who tests positive for crystal meth?" she asked.
Asiata wants the state agency to be able to step in and require drug addicts to complete a rehab program before they return their children to them.
"It's not that my daughter didn't love her children, but you can't provide a safe environment when you're a drug addict," she said.
"I feel her pain for the death of Cyrus," she added, but chose to speak out because she does not want Child Welfare Services to let it happen to another child.
Department of Human Services Director Lillian Koller responded to earlier inquiries by the Star-Bulletin, saying, "If we get a call that a mother has tested positive for ice, that alone is not a trigger for any particular response."
Koller said Chanco had made marked improvements in her parenting skills and was cleaning up from drugs.
Earlier in the day of his death, 23-month-old Belt was found wandering alone in his busy Makiki neighborhood, and police returned the child to his grandfather Lilo Asiata, who according to records allowed a neighbor to take him for a walk.
"I hold her (Chanco) and my ex-husband responsible for the environment (Cyrus) was in, but I do not hold them responsible for his death," said Phillis Asiata.
Asiata herself is wracked with guilt.
"After Cyrus' death, I cried myself to sleep thinking I was a failure as a mother," she said.
Asiata said she tried to teach Nancy and Nancy's two brothers proper values, but they chose the wrong path.
"If I had this life to do over, I would have found some way to get my children out," she said. "I was young and alone."
Asiata divorced her husband in 1989 and left Hawaii while her children were in their 20s. She put herself through school and became a registered nurse in California.
She earned enough to retire and buy a large house in a small Turkish village on the Mediterranean, a place she discovered on trips after traveling to England to visit relatives.
She has never remarried and lives there with Richie, to whom she has devoted her life full time.
He is a happy child, speaks Turkish and English and attends school, Asiata said. It took time for him to feel secure, and when she drops him at school, he still asks, "You are going to pick me up?"
Although the entire village has adopted them, she would like for Richie to live in America close to relatives. Her wish, she said, is for her daughter to get healthy so she can have a relationship with the boy.
Lilo Asiata said he does not want to address anything his ex-wife said about him or their daughter.
"My daughter is in pain, and she doesn't need to hear that," he said. "It's too late to point fingers in a time of healing."
Chanco said her mother "doesn't know anything. She lives far away."
After Richie saw his grandmother looking at a news story and photos on her computer, Asiata explained to him about the balloons and teddy bears marking the spot where Belt died.
For now, she said, she wants to spare him from what really happened.
But he talks about Belt every day, she said: "My baby brother, I know he's with God. If you go up to heaven, you can see Cyrus."