Wednesday, August 11, 1999

Drivers in fatal
Maui crash are
illegal aliens

A Maui police officer died when
he became trapped under the
burning vehicle

By Gary T. Kubota


Two men involved in the traffic crash that killed a Maui police officer are illegal immigrants from Mexico who were working at a Lahaina restaurant, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Ricardo R. Pantoja, 25, the man charged in the traffic death of Maui police officer Gene V. Williams, is originally from Guadalajara and has been using the alias Jose A. China, said Donald Radcliffe, the director of the Hawaii INS office.

Williams, 38, was directing traffic at a construction site north of Kaanapali when a pickup truck allegedly driven by Pantoja struck the back of a car, causing both vehicles to burst into flames before 3 a.m. Monday. Williams was pinned under the burning car and died at the scene.

Pantoja fled the scene but later was apprehended in the vicinity of the crash, according to police.

Radcliffe said the driver of the car that was struck was Francisco Suarez-Diaz, 28, also an illegal immigrant.

Suarez-Diaz, arrested as an illegal alien Monday afternoon, was flown from Maui to Honolulu, where he is being held pending a court proceeding and return to Mexico.

Both Pantoja and Suarez-Diaz worked at Cheeseburger In Paradise in Lahaina, Radcliffe said.

An official with Cheeseburger In Paradise was unavailable for comment.

Pantoja, under police guard and confined yesterday at Maui Memorial Hospital with an injured right knee, faces a number of charges, including negligent homicide, reckless driving, driving while under the influence of alcohol, failure to render aid, and driving without a license.

Police have set his bail at more than $53,000.

Police Lt. Charles Hirata said Pantoja was traveling north on Honoapiilani Highway to a friend's home when the crash occurred near Pukolii.

Authorities say they don't know if Suarez-Diaz was going to the same home.

Radcliffe said immigration investigators are still looking into how Suarez-Diaz found work on Maui.

Radcliffe said Pantoja entered the United States in February 1997. According to his statement, he bought a birth certificate under China's name in Los Angeles. Radcliffe noted that depending on the quality, a U.S. birth certificate can be sold for $200 to $2,000.

"What we see a lot of is counterfeit alien green cards," Radcliffe said.

"We've got quite a number of illegal aliens on Maui. They're in Lahaina and in Kihei."

He estimates there are from 8,000 to 10,000 illegal aliens in Hawaii, including a significant number of illegal Hispanic aliens.

A service for Williams is scheduled on Friday at the Kahului Baptist Church, with viewing from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., followed by services through noon.

Williams is survived by his wife, Dee, a daughter and an infant son.

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