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Wednesday, January 19, 2000

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Three-year-old Malissa Panui-Morte holds her newborn
brother, Kanae'o Panui-Morte, beside their mother,
Malia Amina-Panui at Kapiolani Medical Center for
Women and Children. Amina-Panui was on her way
to the hospital to give birth when her mother-in-law's
car was involved in yesterday's multiple-vehicle
crash on the H-1 Freeway.

Expectant mom
in H-1 crash:
‘The day turned out
pretty good’

She gives birth to a boy
at Kapiolani Hospital after
yesterday's pile-up

By Rod Ohira


Kanae'o Panui-Morte was born at Kapiolani Hospital about 3 hours after his mother escaped injury in a harrowing series of freeway collisions involving seven vehicles.

"God has blessed us with a son, so the day turned out pretty good," said 19-year-old Malia Amina-Panui, who gave birth to Kanae'o yesterday at 8:28 a.m.

"I'm glad everything turned out OK."

Amina-Panui's mother-in-law, Debra Morte, and five other motorists also are counting their blessings, thankful to be alive after a 56-year-old Kalihi man triggered the early morning accident by driving his car into oncoming eastbound traffic on the H-1 Freeway.

The collisions occurred 30 feet west of the Ward Avenue overpass, police traffic investigator Sgt. William Baldwin said.

Benny Belleza, also known as Benjamin C. Bellera, who was driving in the wrong direction, was in critical condition at Queen's Hospital. Two others who were hurt are listed in fair condition at Queen's.

Belleza reportedly entered the freeway from the Punahou Street offramp and made it past the Ward Street overpass before his 1995 red Chevrolet Cavalier collided in the middle lane with a Mercedes Benz, setting off a series of other crashes.

"He put people's lives at risk, but fortunately, it was early in the morning and traffic was light," Baldwin said. "We don't know why he was going the wrong way.

"We don't know how fast he was driving or how recklessly. But there's got to be some people who saw him, and we'd like for them to call us (529-3499 or 529-3136)."

Anatomy of a pile-up

A 58-year-old Salt Lake man, who was driving the Mercedes, turned his car to avoid a head-on collision. The Cavalier sideswiped the front of the Mercedes and veered toward the concrete median, where it struck a Buick LeSabre driven by a 53-year-old Kalihi man, in the far left lane.

The second collision sent the Cavalier spinning back toward the middle lane, where it was struck by a Ford Ranger pickup truck, driven by a 39-year-old Pearl City man.

The Ford Ranger was then rear-ended by a Pontiac.

Another pickup truck, approaching the scene in the middle lane, braked to avoid a collision. The truck spun out into the path of Morte's Ford Taurus, which was traveling in the far left lane.

Morte had left her Pacific Palisades home at 4:15 a.m. to bring her daughter-in-law to Kapiolani Hospital after Amina-Panui began labor at 3:45 a.m.

"There was no traffic and she was so happy, everything was going so well," Morte said.

As they were nearing the Kinau Street offramp at 4:45 a.m., Amina-Panui's contractions were four minutes apart rather than six minutes, said Morte.

Suddenly, Morte saw a pickup truck skidding toward her car.

"I tried to avoid it," she said. "But it hit the front side of my car. We drove up an embankment and I thought my car was going to tip over but it came down."

Morte checked on Amina-Panui, saw that she was OK and called 911 for an ambulance.

"The first ambulance was there in five minutes but went to the critical person," Morte said. "I was really worried because the baby was breached and they were able to turn it on Friday. I didn't know if this had caused it to turn again."

First the baby, then the news

A second ambulance arrived and took Amina-Panui and Morte to Kapiolani.

Amina-Panui gave birth at 8:28 a.m., about three hours after arriving at the hospital. Her husband, Daniel Morte, is attending school in Astoria, Ore.

"He knows I gave birth and we're all OK but we didn't tell him anything else," Amina-Panui said. "We'll save that for later."

Kanae'o, which means "fierce" in Hawaiian, is the couple's second child and the name was picked before yesterday.

"I surprised myself by remaining calm, but I think my mother-in-law had a lot to do with keeping me calm," Amina-Panui said.

Belleza has no record of serious driving offenses and had a valid driver's license, police said.

In addition to the traffic case, police are conducting a criminal investigation concerning alleged events that occurred just before the traffic incident.

Lt. William Kato said Belleza may have threatened a couple and a security guard at Kapiolani Hospital.

Earlier threats reported

A man and his girlfriend told police they were in their car near the entrance to the hospital's parking garage when another car bumped them from behind.

The man went out to check and saw the wrong-way driver seated in the red car, glaring at him and holding up a knife and crucifix, Kato said.

The man and his girlfriend ran into the hospital to notify security, he said. The suspect then drove forward and parked again, drawing the attention of a security guard, who went over to tell him to to move the car.

"The security guard says the man was glaring at him, looking like he was going to attack," Kato said, adding the man believed to be Belleza reportedly was holding up a knife and crucifix.

The security guard went back into the hospital to notify other guards when he met up with the couple who had encountered the suspect moments earlier.

While they were reporting the incident, Belleza apparently drove off and went up the wrong way on Bingham Street.

Another security guard in front of the hospital saw the red car cross Punahou Street and go down the offramp onto the freeway. He alerted police to the wrong-way driver.

Kato said investigators are also checking on an earlier incident at a supermarket in Liliha, where a man fitting Belleza's description allegedly threatened someone.

Driver is on medication

It is unknown why Belleza would be at Kapiolani Hospital, although his wife is employed there in housekeeping, Kato said. But Belleza's wife is reportedly on vacation and left Monday for the Philippines.

The cases at Kapiolani are being investigated as first-degree terroristic threatening although no words were actually spoken.

"We need to hear what he has to say and we probably won't be able to talk to him for four, five, six days," Kato said. He also confirmed that police were called to the couple's residence Saturday on a domestic argument complaint. "They went there, found no abuse and left," he said.

Belleza is unemployed and uses prescribed medication for an unknown disorder, Kato said. He was convicted in October 1988 for misdemeanor abuse of a household member for hitting his wife during a 1987 argument.

Star-Bulletin reporter Debra Barayuga contributed to this report.

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