Monday, August 27, 2001

Police inspect the minivan involved in a fatal accident
on the H-1 near the 7th Avenue overpass in Kaimuki yesterday.

Crash kills
popular teacher

Police consider racing to be a
possible cause based on the
evidence and witness statements

Car show enthusiasts give thumbs-down to street racing

By Leila Fujimori and Nelson Daranciang

A popular Holy Trinity School teacher was killed and her husband and mother were injured yesterday morning in a pre-dawn H-1 accident that police believe was caused by racing.

Police said a speeding black 1999 Honda Prelude collided with the van near the Kapiolani Boulevard onramp, killing Elizabeth Kekoa, a 58-year-old Honolulu woman, a school teacher who was on her way to help set up for church services at Holy Trinity.

Kekoa, who was riding in the front passenger seat of the van, was pronounced dead at 5:06 a.m. upon arrival at Queen's Medical Center. Her husband, 68, suffered chest pains and was in fair condition at Queen's. Kekoa's mother, 79, was in critical condition last night.

Police said a witness told them he saw several Hondas blocking the freeway to set up for drag racing just before the collision.

"Racing is a possibility," said police Sgt. David Talon of the Traffic Investigation Division on the cause of the accident. "Racing is more common than we might think."

Police arrested the driver of the Honda, an 18-year-old Hawaii Kai man, at the 6th Avenue offramp, where his car finally stopped, for suspicion of second-degree negligent homicide. He was uninjured. The man was released yesterday with no charges filed.

The death of Kekoa devastated students and staff at Holy Trinity School on Kalanianaole Highway.

Children of Holy Trinity sang and prayed this morning for Kekoa, a third- and fourth-grade religion teacher.


"We wanted to celebrate her life and help the children start the healing process," said Monica Des Jarlais, school principal.

Des Jarlais said about 15 parents also attended the half-hour service which included a bible reading and a reflection by her on Kekoa's life.

She said Kekoa wore many hats and touched many lives at the school and Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

"We are all in shock. My teachers are having a difficult time," Des Jarlais said.

Prior to becoming the school's religious education teacher two years ago, Kekoa was Des Jarlais' secretary for three years. At the church, Kekoa was in charge of Sunday school and helped instruct parents of children about to be baptized. Des Jarlais said Kekoa even started a youth ministry to get teenagers back to church.

"She was so welcoming. She embraced everyone she met," Des Jarlais said.

Church officials believe Kekoa was likely on the way home to prepare for 7 a.m. Mass at Holy Trinity when the accident occurred.

The accident comes nearly three months after the June 9 death of an 18-year-old driver whose Acura Integra was speeding on a nearby stretch of the H-1 freeway and went airborne, crashing onto Waialae Avenue in Kahala below.

Talon said the Kamehameha Day accident was similar to yesterday's accident in several ways, including the type of vehicles involved and the amount of debris left behind caused by the apparent high rate of speed.

Talon said the high-performance car is popular, as evidenced by the weekend's Hawaii Street Car Show Off.

"Kids are attracted to the 'import' lifestyle," he said. "I was hoping I wouldn't see any of these types of cars involved in another fatality."

Police do not know if the Honda driver was involved in the setup of the race, but his car was equipped with a high-performing V-Tech motor and an exhaust and intake system designed for high performance, Talon said.

"Based on the evidence and witness statements, excessive speed was an apparent factor," Talon said.

The Honda driver was heading Koko Head-bound on the H-1 freeway three-tenths of a mile before the 6th Avenue offramp when he spun out of control and crashed head-on into the concrete median, Talon said.

The car's rear end slammed into the back of the white 1994 Ford Aerostar van, causing the van to go out of control and smash head-on into the south guardrail, stopping 528 feet away, Talon said.

"The Honda may have momentarily stopped, and continued on under its own power and stopped at the 6th Avenue offramp," Talon said. "It's unknown if it could have gone any further."

Pieces of the vehicles were strewn for a length of more than five football fields along the freeway.

The car's bumper was torn off and left near the site of the original collision, 528 feet behind the van and 1,528 feet from the body of the car, Talon said.

Police closed the freeway heading Koko Head-bound shortly after the accident at 4:17 a.m. for about eight hours, creating a traffic nightmare. Motorists were routed off the freeway at the South King Street exit. Two lanes were reopened at about 1 p.m., while the other lanes were opened at about 2 p.m. Cars were backed up along the freeway, a nearby resident said.

A neighbor who lives two houses away awoke to the sound of a "big crash." The man, who asked not to be named, said he could not go back to sleep, so he went out to see what was happening.

He said it was the third accident in the year since he has lived there.

Cars were backed up along the freeway, he said.

And he saw a heart-shape balloon tied to the driver's side floating outside the van.

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