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Wednesday, December 20, 2000

By Anthony Sommer, Star-Bulletin
The Whitchers are honored by the Kauai Police Department
for courage in trying to save their waitress from a fatal attack.
Thomas Whitcher, left, and his father, Daryl, chased Michelle
Ramos' attacker out of the restaurant while Debbie, right,
tried in vain to stop Ramos' bleeding.

Witness to tragedy,
a family grieves
for the life they
tried to save

The visiting family tried to
stop the fatal stabbing of
a young Kauai woman

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent

LIHUE -- The Whitcher family, visiting from Salinas, Calif., plans to attend funeral services tomorrow for Michelle Ramos, 26, who was stabbed to death Friday by her estranged boyfriend Ryan Masumoto, 32.

Ramos, a waitress, was attacked as she took the Whitchers' drink orders at Keoki's Paradise Restaurant in Poipu.

Daryl Whitcher, 43, and his son Thomas, 17, both attacked Masumoto with chairs to drive him off and chased him into the restaurant parking lot where he drove away. Debbie Whitcher tried frantically but unsuccessfully to stop Ramos' bleeding with bar towels. An autopsy showed Masumoto stabbed her 17 times.

Masumoto hanged himself a short while later at a nearby beach.

At an informal gathering yesterday, Kauai Police Chief George Freitas presented the Whitchers with certificates of appreciation praising them for what the chief characterized as "extraordinary courage."

Beth Tokioka, Mayor Maryanne Kusaka's press secretary, said the mayor felt the family should receive public recognition for rushing to the aid of an assault victim when so many others probably would run away.

In an interview yesterday, the Whitchers acknowledged the attachment they still feel for a total stranger with whom they shared an extremely violent event. They said they want to meet her family and will attend her funeral.

"When a friend dies, there are things in their life you can share with other mourners and even celebrate," Daryl Whitcher said. "With Michelle there isn't even that."

Police said Ramos and Masumoto had a four-year relationship, and they were parents of a 22-month old girl. There was a history of domestic-violence complaints. The couple had separated, and Masumoto was living with his parents in Koloa.

Lt. Bill Ching said Masumoto was the target of a drug investigation at the time of his death.

Police said Masumoto came to the restaurant earlier Friday and tried to borrow money from Ramos, but she turned him down. Co-workers told detectives Ramos told them he wanted money to buy drugs.

The Whitchers collectively gave the following account:

They arrived on a flight from San Francisco at 12:30 p.m. They were a day early for their week at a time share, so they rented a car and drove to Poipu to find a hotel room for the night. They decided to stop at Keoki's for lunch. Their daughter Crissy, 15, was asleep in the car, and they left her there.

They seated themselves near the front door, and Ramos came to take their drink order. Debbie Whitcher was the last to order and was talking to Ramos. Daryl Whitcher said he saw Masumoto come in the front door.

"I saw the knife in his hand," Whitcher said.

"He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her down, brought the knife up and started stabbing her," Whitcher said.

All they remember hearing Masumoto say was, "Bitch."

Daryl Whitcher said he grabbed a chair "lion-tamer fashion" and used it to drive Masumoto off of Ramos.

"He was swinging the knife at everybody. He kept struggling," Whitcher recalled. "I slipped on the blood on the floor, and he came back at her and started stabbing her again."

A cook at the restaurant came to help.

"We were able to knock the knife out of his hand. He ran out."

Daryl and Thomas Whitcher chased Masumoto to his car. Thomas Whitcher smashed a chair through his windshield. Masumoto looked like he was about to start the car, and Daryl Whitcher said he punched him in the face.

"I hit him as hard as I could -- no effect, just a grunt," Daryl Whitcher said.

Masumoto drove off. Police said he went to his parents' house and took their car, which they later found near his body.

Meanwhile, Debbie Whitcher was trying to stop Ramos' bleeding. Both she and her husband are trained emergency medical technicians and longtime ski patrol members who have dealt with badly injured people before.

"I was yelling out for more towels. I could see all the blood, and I kept calling for more towels. But I also saw she was getting shocky," Debbie Whitcher said. "I just wanted her to live."

Fire department paramedics and an ambulance arrived. Ramos was taken to Wilcox Memorial Hospital where she was declared dead an hour after the attack.

Thomas Whitcher said he really has little memory of joining his father in fighting off Masumoto. "I remember her hair covering her face and her screaming, and I remember smashing the chair through the car windshield. I did whatever I did out of reaction. I hope anyone who is in that position would do the same thing."

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