Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Shown dancing at the wedding of her half brother
Todd Plekavic, Miriam "Nani" Fernandez, above, died
Sunday in a three-car collision involving a
suspected drunken driver.

Family loses 2
members in car
crashes in 2 months

A Kona woman killed Sunday
was the step-sister of
policeman Dannygriggs Padayao

By Rod Thompson

KAILUA-KONA >> In the huge, extended Bailado family, Miriam "Nani" Fernandez of the Big Island stood out as a person who could quickly bring peace when petty arguments started in the family.

"She was warm and never, ever angry at anybody," said her step-father Harry Plekavic.

Fernandez, 49, had left a two-day family reunion at the Old Kona Airport State Park on Sunday when her car was hit by another driver, killing her and injuring her husband Michael, son Haaheo, and another passenger.

Police are investigating whether the driver of the car that hit her had been drinking.

Barely two months earlier, the family lost its other recognized peacemaker, Honolulu police officer Dannygriggs "Danny" Padayao, Fernandez's step-brother.

Padayao, 46, was killed when a pickup truck hit him while he was laying flares at an accident site on Kamehameha Highway in Waikane on April 30. When police arrested the 22-year-old truck driver after he had fled the scene, an officer noted his flushed face and glassy eyes, and a strong odor of alcohol on his breath.

The two deaths have torn the family apart emotionally, said Fernandez's step-brother Todd Plekavic from his home in Chicago.

"Tragedy has struck this family 10-fold," he said. "We're really hurting."

Plekavic said that during his twice-a-year visits to Hawaii, Padayao would always pick him up at the Honolulu airport.

After Padayao's death, Plekavic got off the plane in Honolulu, smelled plumeria flowers, and realized his step-brother wouldn't be coming.

"That smell tipped everything off. I was crying in public," he said.

Fernandez visited him in Chicago just three weeks ago, Plekavic said.

"At least I got to see her," he said.

Harry Plekavic said his step-daughter was "perfect."

"She was very warm and compassionate. There wasn't anything she couldn't do," he said.

Her mother, Cecilia, said Fernandez was her oldest child, one of eight along with Padayao.

"I'm holding up sometimes, and sometimes it's really bad," she said.

Fernandez was raised by her grandmother, Miriam Bailado, for whom she was named. "Grandma" Bailado also gave birth to 24 of her own children, Todd Plekavic said.

Fernandez had worked as secretary to the head chef at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, then moved over to the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel where she was a security official, her step-father said.

"She was a very smart woman," he said.

And athletic, his son Todd added.

"She was a great volleyball player," he said.

Keith Tolentino, athletic director at Honokaa High School, said Fernandez had just become head coach of the school's varsity girls volleyball team. She had a hard-working, "go get 'em" attitude, he said.

Cecilia Plekavic said she and her husband, both from Chicago, will remain in Kona to take care of Fernandez's husband and son.

She had already attended counseling provided by Mothers Against Drunk Driving when Padayao was killed, and now must go again, she said.

Drunken drivers who cause deaths should never be allowed to drive again, she said, "because they'll never stop drinking."

The 53-year-old driver of the car that hit Fernandez remains in critical condition at Queen's Hospital.

The 22-year-old man suspected of hitting Padayao has returned to Michigan pending the outcome of that investigation.

E-mail to City Desk

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