Thursday, May 13, 1999


The mourning after

Photos by Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Each petal on these artificial roses tells the story with the name,
birth date or initials of Sara Johnson, killed in Sunday's landslide
at Sacred Falls State Park. Below, her parents, Christine and Jack
Johnson, leave the flowers along with tear-soaked tissues in a quiet
grieving ceremony after the discovery of her body yesterday.

Family makes
painful journey

The parents of a woman found dead
grieve after her body is recovered; 11
victims remain hospitalized; and the
park's future is uncertain

By Jaymes K. Song


Jack and Christine Johnson placed an orchid lei and six pink roses with their daughter's name, birth date or initials penciled on each petal at the foot of the Sacred Falls State Park sign.

They sobbed and also left their tear-soaked tissue behind among the other floral memorials.

Walking away from the sign, Jack Johnson turned and walked back. He knelt, trembling and crying in front of the sign as his wife and the news media watched silently.

He put his head down for a couple of minutes, rubbed the flowers and bid farewell.

Tears came from some Department of Land and Natural Resources officers who had escorted the Johnsons and searched for their daughter, Sara, the past three days.

Sara Johnson and seven others were killed in Sunday's landslide.

Johnson's boyfriend remained hospitalized from injuries suffered in the landslide. Eleven others, including five children, also remain hospitalized.

Minutes before laying the flowers, the Johnsons spent about half an hour with the body believed to be their 24-year-old daughter Sara Johnson of Hayward, Calif.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Christine Johnson, mother of landslide victim Sara Johnson,
prepares to place a lei and flowers at the park gate.

Although police and state officials are confident the body is of Sara Johnson, the last reported missing hiker, the medical examiner's office has not confirmed the identity of the body as of last night.

The Johnsons and three friends of the family arrived at the park at 9:40 a.m. The family requested to hike the trail and see the waterfall area.

While conservation officers advised them they could take an alternate route, the family requested to hike the same trail.

"They feel very solemn of course," said fire Capt. Richard Soo. "We share in their sorrow. At this point, we're trying to assist the family to bring closure."

After hiking up the trail about 200 yards, the family was turned back when a body was discovered buried in rubble near the waterfall by conservation officers at 10:15 a.m. The body was airlifted to the trail head, away from the Johnsons.

The Johnsons and the three friends broke into tears and hugs when they were notified at 12:45 p.m.

Tim Johns, director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said rain may have uncovered some debris which led to the discovery of the body.

"She was pretty much in the place where her boyfriend and other witnesses said she would have fallen which was right nearly at the impact zone, on the edge of the pool," Johns said. "The first two days she was not visible at all."

Johns said the park will be closed indefinitely and that rocks are still falling.

"It's still unsafe up there," Johns said. "We will begin our analysis of the safety of the continued use of it as a park.

"Life is unsafe," he added. "You walk out of your house and it's unsafe. It really comes down to balancing risk and making sure people understand or acknowledge that risk or make well-informed decisions on where they go. As far as keeping it open as a park, we're not ready to do that."

Rep. Colleen Meyer (R, Heeia Kea-Laie) said she doesn't know how the tragedy could have been avoided.

"It's just one of those acts of nature from God," Meyer said. "How could you second guess it?

"I don't think there's any question that this place will be closed for a long time."

The department will be working with geologists and an ad-hoc task force to assess Sacred Falls as well as other high-risk slide areas.

Johns said he wants kupunas in the area to get a spiritual healing ceremony for Sacred Falls and all the victims.

The Johnson family, through Johns, wanted to thank everyone for their help and support.

Sara Johnson's body will be transported in the next few days to California for burial, police said.

A surgeon from California, who treated landslide victims at Sacred Falls, says more critical-care management service could have been provided if advanced cardiac life support equipment or trained personnel were available at the scene.

"I don't know if it would have changed the outcome," Dr. Geoff Scott, a head and neck surgeon at University of California-Irvine Medical Center, said yesterday in a telephone interview from his home.

"I'm not criticizing anything," he added. "This is just my wish for the future. I'm looking at it as how can we do better."

Scott says when the first rescue workers came to the scene, he was hoping to see some ACLS-trained personnel and medical supplies.

"In a routine setting, you need muscle guys to get people out but what we had was a critical need right at the scene, not two miles down," Scott said.

"In this type situation, I was hoping that the rescuers would show up with ACLS-trained people and equipment. I think you have to show up to something like this prepared for anything.

"I was under the perception that all Fire Department rescue personnel are trained for ACLS care but I was mistaken."

Scott thinks it's a good idea for officials to consider having ACLS-trained personnel as part of a first-response rescue unit.

Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Ohira contributed to this report.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Christine Johnson, mother of victim Sara Johnson,
was comforted yesterday.

Grieving parents
appreciate aloha

By Rod Ohira


On the day before he was killed by a landslide at Sacred Falls, Mark Johnson showed his parents around the Chaminade University campus.

"His mother told me that one of his goals was to repay the university, and he was planning to give so much from his income each month so the school could paint its buildings," said Darrell Large, Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii's executive director.

Memorial services are planned for Mark Johnson, 29, and his 24-year-old sister, Jennifer, who was also killed at Sacred Falls, at Chaminade's Mystical Rose Chapel at 9 a.m. Sunday and at Barbers Point Naval Air Station's chapel Monday.

Their parents, Len and Sheila Johnson of West Falls, Calif., requested that donations be made to the painting project in lieu of flowers, said Large.

Before leaving Hawaii yesterday, the Johnsons issued a statement through Chaminade University.

"We would like to thank the people of Hawaii for all they have been doing and trying to do for us," the Johnsons said. "It is a very difficult time for us, but we truly appreciate the support and prayers.

"We would like to ask the Hawaii community to continue to pray for our children and all of the victims and their families."

Mark Johnson, who earned a bachelor's degree in history and political science at Chaminade, was stationed at Barbers Point.

The Navy is willing to provide the personnel to complete the painting project in Johnson's memory, says Large.

"Although they're in deep grief, the Johnsons appreciated the sensitivity and respect for their privacy shown by the community and local media," Large said. "It meant a lot to them."

The American Red Cross-Hawaii chapter has made crisis counseling available to each victim's family.

Victim update line

With the tragedy reported in the national news, a victim update line has received more than 120 calls. The number is:

Bullet Mainland and Neighbor Islands: 1-800-898-2353.
Bullet On Oahu: 523-4122.

E-mail to City Desk

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