Thursday, August 30, 2001

Decoys to help
catch racers

Police decoy cars will be
used over the Labor Day
weekend to catch speeders

By Rod Antone and Lisa Asato

Honolulu police say they will be using decoy cars in their plan to crack down on street races this holiday weekend. While police would not describe the decoy cars, they hinted the cars would be civilian vehicles that would attract those on the highway looking for racing competition.

"From what we've been hearing ... there are a lot of kids (who) will surround normal cars -- Hondas, Toyotas -- and rev their engines to get drivers to race," said Traffic Division head Maj. Robert Prasser. However, Prasser emphasizes that the role of the decoy car will be a passive one.

"We're not going to entice anybody to race," he said.

Police said that if drivers wanting to street-race happen upon one of the decoy cars, the officer in the decoy will call ahead to uniformed officers in patrol cars or on solo bikes. That way, police said, if the cars surrounding the decoy car speed off, officers will be able to catch them.

"If we can get decoys up and running by this weekend, we can do it," Prasser said.

The Labor Day weekend traffic watch comes after the death of 58-year-old Elizabeth Kekoa on Sunday. Police said Kekoa was killed and two other family members injured when their van was struck from behind by a car driven by Nicholas Tudisco, 18, who appeared to have been racing another vehicle at the time. Police estimate that at the time of the impact, Tudisco was traveling at nearly 100 mph.

"It's getting so bad we got to step it up," said solo bike Lt. Alfredo Torco. "It's something we want to do to slow down traffic. This is a long holiday, and we don't want something tragic to happen."

Prasser would not say how many officers would be involved in the operation this weekend or how much the operation would cost.

"We just want to get out there and send a clear message, and the message is, Don't race on public highways," Prasser said.

The alleged race involving Tudisco was apparently organized, police said. Investigators said witnesses described other cars on the highway driving slowly, acting as rolling roadblocks to keep H-1 clear.

As a result, the case has drawn attention to car clubs and import enthusiasts who like to modify their autos. Even so, police maintain that they are after street speeders in general and no group in particular.

"If an old junk is speeding, we're going to stop that guy," Torco said. "We're not targeting modified cars."

Despite all the media focus on Oahu, the racing and speeding problem is statewide, according to neighbor island law enforcement.

On the Big Island, police issued a plea for drivers to obey speed limits following a fatality in June involving racing. In that June 7 case, Mahie Blomgren, 19, of Hilo was driving a 1998 Honda sedan when he rear-ended a 1998 Toyota sedan driven by a 15-year-old on Volcano Highway south of Hilo.

Blomgren lost control, hit a tree and was killed.

Police said there were several other incidents resulting in minor injuries or no injuries.

"The racing problem is on the increase, which could mean more deaths and injuries on our roadways," officer Christopher Gali said at the time.

Sgt. Samuel Jelsma of Hawaii County's Traffic Enforcement Unit said drag-racing on streets has been a problem since he joined the Police Department in the mid-1980s.

Typical sites used by speeders after dark are near the Hilo airport, the Shipman Business Park in Puna and the Highway 137 "Red Road" on the Puna coast, he said.

On Maui, patrol officers have broken up street races within the last year, said police Lt. Charles Hirata. Hirata said one race occurred on a beach road near Kanaha, and there apparently has been racing on the road near the county landfill in Puunene, where a line has been drawn across the street with the word "Start."

Hirata said speeding, including street racing, is a serious problem, but he does not know if racing clubs are responsible for conducting competitions on the road.

Speeding contributed to six of the 14 fatalities on the Valley Isle this year, according to Maui police.

Hirata said he has been advocating passage of a law that would make a felony out of resisting an order to stop. As on Oahu, Hirata said, Maui police as a policy do not engage in high-speed pursuits over traffic infractions.

Kauai also has its share of souped-up small foreign cars, most of them Hondas. But unlike Oahu, the Garden Isle does not really have any roadway amenable to racing, according to Kauai police.

There are only two straightaways of any length anywhere on the island, and almost the entire Kauai road network consists of two-lane highways.

Even so, Lt. Stan Koizumi, who heads the Kauai Traffic Section, said there is a problem with high-performance cars speeding through traffic. "Every so often, we get lucky and we catch them," he said.

Since Kekoa's death, two state lawmakers have proposed bills that would allow police to seize the vehicles of arrested speeders.

The state attorney general expressed his support yesterday. "It's obviously very dangerous activity," Attorney General Earl Anzai said, "and I think there is some precedence for that with forfeiture laws."

Star-Bulletin reporters Rod Thompson, Gary T. Kubota
and Anthony Sommer contributed to this report.

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