Patrick Onishi showed a picture of his daughter, Dara, as he spoke to the media yesterday afternoon in front of his home. Dara was killed when a boulder crashed through their home.

Falling rocks and
boulders are common

Family and friends recall victim
of boulder as loving and bright

When will the next boulder tumble down?
Previous boulder incidents
Boulder death recalls 1965 incident

By Leila Fujimori

Dara Rei Onishi was a smart, likable and talented young woman. A Punahou School and Yale University graduate, she played the piano, enjoyed working with children and wanted to become an English teacher.

She was getting ready to leave for the mainland later this month to pursue a master's degree at Columbia Teacher's College.

"She had a deep desire to experience life," said Patrick Onishi, who reminisced about his daughter hours after a six-ton boulder crashed through her bedroom and killed her while she slept yesterday.

"She gave us 26 years of highs," he said, holding an impromptu meeting with reporters across the street from the family's home at 2527 A Henry Street in Nuuanu.

The boulder, described as a five-by-five-foot cube, tumbled down the hillside behind the Onishi home and crashed into her second-floor bedroom about 2 a.m., fire officials said. The boulder ripped through the floor, taking Onishi and her bed, and landed in the family room on the first floor.

Onishi's parents, Patrick and Gail, and younger brother, Blaine, also were home sleeping. They were not injured.

The 5-ton boulder that killed Dara Onishi, 26, while she lay in bed early yesterday morning left a gapping hole in the wall of the Onishi family house in Nuuanu.

"She was a very accomplished person," Patrick Onishi said, adding that the middle of his three children wanted to be an English teacher. "This has really been a tragedy for the family. It caught us by surprise. ... We haven't caught up with our feelings yet."

Patrick Onishi, an architect and former planning director under Mayor Jeremy Harris, was composed and thanked firefighters and reporters for being respectful toward the grieving family.

Onishi's younger brother, Blaine, 23, choked up with emotions during a telephone interview with the Star-Bulletin yesterday. He said he and his sister got along well and there was never any sibling rivalry.

"She was really talented, very smart academically. She had terrific musical skills," Blaine Onishi said.

"She was a pianist. She performed with the Honolulu Symphony as a guest performer when she was in high school. She was just really talented," he said.

Blaine Onishi, a University of Washington senior, is home visiting for the summer. He was sleeping in his bedroom next to his sister's bedroom and heard the boulder crashing through the wall.

Neighbors said the Onishis are a close-knit family and described the young woman as well liked and pretty.

Dara Rei Onishi, 26, a Punahou School and Yale University graduate, was killed in a freak accident yesterday.

"I feel sorry. Only one daughter they had," said neighbor Elaine Tsuji.

Onishi had been working as an administrative assistant for Managing Director Ben Lee since January while preparing to leave for Columbia.

"Dara is like our daughter," said Lee, who has known the family for 30 years. "She was a sparkle in the office. She was sharp as a tack" and "never said 'no' to any task."

Harris said he has known Onishi since she was a teenager, when she taught him to bon dance. She was "the best of the best" and "a young girl with incredible promise, great intelligence," Harris said.

Harris went to the Onishi home after learning of the accident and held a noon memorial at Honolulu Hale. Her co-workers were planning a farewell party for her next Friday, which was to be her last day at work.

Onishi also worked as program coordinator for the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel's children's program about a year ago. She was so popular that even after she left the job in 2001, parents still called her to baby-sit, said Kathy Hew, of Kama'aina Kids Inc., which runs the program.

Onishi had graduated from Yale University in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies. From 1997 to 1999, she taught English in Akita, Japan, as part of the Japanese Exchange Teaching Program.

Onishi's father worked as director of the department of land utilization from 1995 to 1997, and then as chief planning officer in 1998.

Gregg K. Kakesako and Keiko Kiele Akana-Gooch contributed to this report.

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