Friday, August 31, 2001

Long-range strategy
needed against racers

The issue: Police plan a Labor Day
weekend crackdown on highway car
racers in the aftermath of last
weekend's fatal collision.

POLICE are responding as they should to last weekend's fatal accident on the H-1 freeway by launching an intense dragnet aimed at street racers during the Labor Day weekend. Any owner of a souped-up car would be crazy to engage in such a race this soon after Sunday's collision. Police would be remiss, however, if they did not devise a permanent strategy for dealing with these highway hooligans.

The crackdown stems from the predawn accident that police say apparently resulted from a race between two cars, facilitated by a rolling roadblock of other cars that kept ordinary traffic from entering the race area from the rear. Holy Trinity School teacher Elizabeth Kekoa was killed when the minivan in which she was a passenger was struck by one of the racing cars, which had been tearing along at nearly 100 mph. The racing car's driver, Nicholas Tudisco, an 18-year-old college student, has been arrested.

At least two legislators intend to propose laws allowing police to seize cars used in street racing and to increase penalties for racing drivers. California and New York have similar seizure laws for speeders, but Governor Cayetano has questioned the effectiveness of such laws.

As we noted earlier this week, laws with increased penalties also may not be needed. Prosecutors in the past have obtained manslaughter convictions of drivers recklessly responsible for traffic deaths. They may be able to charge racing drivers with reckless endangering, a felony, in some circumstances.

While the effectiveness of present laws is being scrutinized, enforcement cannot wait for legislative debates. Police this weekend plan to use unmarked decoy cars to attract drivers on the highways seeking race 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 Maj. Robert Prasser, head of the Honolulu Police Department's Traffic Division.

Any racing club member foolish enough to fall for such a ploy during this holiday weekend should be an automatic candidate for mental examination. Highway racing enthusiasts are more likely to wait for the public outrage -- and police crackdown -- to pass before they rev up their engines again.

A long-range strategy should include heightened vigilance by police in detecting potential highway races and periodic notices to the motorists to alert police when they observe such craziness. Prasser's request earlier this week that people "get off the road and give us a call" should be repeated -- regularly.

Agreement places
Hawaii species at risk

The issue: An arrangement between
environ-mentalists and the government
will delay habitats for four
endangered invertebrates.

An agreement that would allow the federal government to move more quickly to protect some endangered species is a sensible step toward a cooperative effort to protect the nation's vanishing plants and animals. But it is too bad that the arrangement between an environmental coalition and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will delay crucial habitat designations for four of Hawaii's endangered species.

Although the wildlife service and conservation organizations share the same goal of species protection, they have often found themselves in adversarial positions. Because of inadequate funding, the service has been hard pressed to carry out the provisions of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Environmentalists have had to sue the agency to force it to comply.

Earlier this year, the Bush administration alarmed environmentalists when it proposed to eliminate such suits by giving the secretary of the interior sole authority to control listings, taking away a tool that had become vital in species protection. In Hawaii, for example, only five of 365 endangered species would have received habitat protection if not for lawsuits. However, the wildlife service has been overwhelmed by the task of complying with court orders for habitat designation, diverting its efforts to place other species on the protection list.

The plan announced Wednesday would allow the service to use $588,000 that would have been spent to mark habitats to saving 29 plant and animal species, some of which are on the brink of extinction. The environmental coalition in exchange agreed that it would not oppose the government's requests to extend court deadlines on certain habitat designations.

The arrangement will put off for at least six months the mapping of habitats critical for the survival of the endangered Kauai cave wolf spider, Kauai cave amphipod, Blackburn's sphinx moth and the Newcomb snail. This isn't good news, but the agreement at least signals a new willingness between the wildlife service and environmentalists to seek common sense solutions.

With so many other funding priorities, it's hard to imagine lawmakers losing sleep over the possible demise of a few spiders and snails. At the same time, the wildlife service's struggle again exposes the continuing irresponsibility of Congress and the administration to provide money for their mandates.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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