Sunday, January 13, 2002

Prank possible
in airman’s death

An isle man stands charged
in the murder of the jet mechanic
at a base in Okinawa

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Family and friends of a Montana F-15 jet mechanic believe that he was poisoned when someone put Visine eye drops in his beer, possibly as a prank.

Airman 1st Class Damien G. Kawai, a 2000 Pahoa High School graduate, is awaiting an Article 32 hearing at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa which will determine whether he will face a court martial for the death of Airman 1st Class Charles F. Eskew, of Great Falls, Mont.

Kawai's case could be tried as a capital offense.

Kawai, 19, was charged Dec. 5 with the murder of Eskew, 20, whose body was found in his dormitory room Nov. 17. Kawai was detained by Kadena officials two days later on his 19th birthday.

Kadena officials won't say what caused Eskew's death.

But Ron Wildman, a Salvation Army worker in Eskew's hometown, said he and family members have been told that "possibly foul play was involved and that Eskew was smothered with a pillow."

He and others say that Eskew's death was then made to look like a suicide.

Wildman said he also heard shortly after Eskew's death that someone might have put Visine in Eskew's beer and then something went wrong.

Some of Eskew's friends were told that Visine was put into Eskew's beer as a prank since it can cause diarrhea.

But Visine contains tetrahydrozoline, which can be life-threatening and could cause respiratory problems, coma and vomiting.

Wildman said Eskew was a member of the Salvation Army and served as a youth volunteer for four or five years before he went into the Air Force.

"He helped out with kids' programs," Wildman said. "I remember him as a very pleasant young man who was very intelligent."

"His goal was to return to his high school reunion 10 years from now as a lieutenant. So I know somewhere he planned to go to OCS (officer candidate school)."

At his funeral service on Nov. 26, Wildman said the Air Force presented Eskew's family with an Air Force Commendation Medal for his duties at Kadena in central Okinawa.

Both Eskew and Kawai attended technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas last year before being assigned to Kadena. It was their first overseas assignment. They both worked in the same section of the 18th Maintenance Squadron at Kadena.

Kawai enlisted on Sept. 26, 2000, and was sent to Kadena April 7, 2001.

An Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury, will be held later this month to determine if there is enough evidence to send the case to a court-martial.

Wildman, a former Marine, said: "Every young man loves adventure, and Charles Eskew saw the Air Force as a way to get out of Great Falls. He interacted very well with people, and he was not overly withdrawn or timid or bombastic."

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