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Boyfriend of drowning victim claims inadequate response by police, fire

HILO, Hawai‘i — The boyfriend of a 29-year-old Kea‘au woman, who drowned early Sunday morning after slipping and falling into the ocean off a sea cliff in Hawaiian Paradise Park (HPP), alleges she died because of an inadequate response by police and fire rescuers.

Dylan Gapp, a 31-year-old HPP man, identified his girlfriend as Kala‘i Reyes and said she has two young daughters.

“This could’ve been avoided. She should be here right now,” Gapp told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday.

Gapp said he climbed the fence of a neighboring house that had a swimming pool, took a pool raft, threw it in the water — and that Reyes climbed aboard when the current carried the raft to her.

According to Gapp, police and fire rescue personnel showed up in “15 or 20 minutes” and “did absolutely nothing.”

“They didn’t have a light, they didn’t have a rope, they didn’t have a flotation device,” he said. “For an hour-and-a-half, we had eyes on her, and she was on the raft that I had thrown out to her. For an hour after I made that call, she was floating on that raft, and they were standing around, talking story.

“For the next two hours, nobody called for any of those things. It absolutely blew my mind. There’s no reason she should’ve been out there an hour-and-a-half on that raft I threw there. A helicopter from Hilo should’ve only taken 15 minutes.”

Gapp said he and Reyes were down at the cliff area because “she wanted to go down there and watch the water, because we could hear it from our house.”

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “The rescue crew sits there getting paid 24 hours a day for something like this. And they show up with not even a flotation device or a light.”

Police Capt. Rio Amon-Wilkins, commander of the East Hawai‘i Criminal Investigation Division, said the police computer system showed officers arrived “maybe six or seven minutes” after being called, and that the fire department “showed up pretty much simultaneously with police.”

“By the time that officers arrived, it was estimated that she was approximately 75 to 100 yards offshore, in the water,” Amon-Wilkins said. “She had already been thrown some kind of flotation device by Gapp. And patrol officers don’t really have any other type of equipment in their vehicles for a situation like this.”

A woman who lives near the cliff, who identified herself simply as “Susan,” said her husband also estimated Reyes was about 100 yards from shore on the floating pool toy, which she described as “this huge, two-person chaise lounge raft.”

“She climbed on it, and she lay down in the center of it. And I thought her rescue is going to be OK now, she’s going to live,” Susan said. “So, I came in and tried to sleep, but I was restless because it was upsetting. And she was screaming out there the whole time.

“But the helicopters didn’t come for, like, two more hours, maybe an hour and 45 minutes. So, as we stood there watching, she just floated at a diagonal to the right away from the coast … with the current.”

“I just wonder why they didn’t get there sooner. What is the protocol? Is an hour and 45 minutes or two hours acceptable? Were they somewhere else? Why wasn’t anyone there sooner?”

While Amon-Wilkins made it clear he doesn’t speak for the Hawai‘i Fire Department, he said he doesn’t believe they had the rescue equipment needed to assist at the Pahoa Fire Station, where the responders came from.

“They’d have to make a call to their dispatch to get a boat or a helicopter deployed, which they did,” he said. “The Coast Guard was also contacted, and they deployed a helicopter and a C-130 (turboprop aircraft) from Honolulu. That’s obviously going to take some time to get there, and I don’t know what their response time was.”

Fire Chief Kazuo Todd said the county helicopter responded, but not until daylight.

“Our bird doesn’t go up until there’s light,” Todd said. He said the Fire Rescue boat was deployed, but it takes a while for it to respond from Hilo.

Amon-Wilkins said the autopsy on the victim — whose body was found at about 8 a.m. 4 miles downshore near Honolulu Landing in Pahoa — was performed Tuesday morning.

“The pathologist said there are no indications of foul play, no abnormal markings on the victim’s body,” he said. “He did already rule it an accidental drowning.”

Amon-Wilkins said police won’t officially identify the woman until notification of next-of-kin.

Assistant Police Chief Kenneth Quiocho amplified what Amon-Wilkins said.

“Not only would we be unable to do very much for her at that point, but are we going to risk additional lives to help that person?” Quiocho asked, rhetorically. “I know it sounds a little bit harsh to say that, but those are the things we quickly have weigh out. We don’t want to cause further casualties, unnecessarily.

“You know, the surf down there that morning at about 2 o’clock was extremely rough. And it was pitch black down there. You can’t see anything.”

Condolences poured in to Reyes’ Facebook page, which identified her as Kala‘i Reyes Kanekoa.

“My sweet sweet beautiful friend, you were the first friend I ever had. Fly high with the angels, rest easy my beautiful friend,” one posted.

Wrote another: “I’m still waiting to wake up from this terrible nightmare. my first washington friend, my BEST friend, my pregnancy twin, my forever chillis date, my stitch lover, the best fried rice maker, my number 1 supporter, my second ohana.”

A third said she loved Reyes and “will miss you so very much.”

“Don’t worry… we will definitely make sure that things are taken care of down here. So watch us from up there, okay?” that poster said.

“Our condolences go out to the family, because I’m sure it’s a very difficult situation for them to deal with,” Quiocho said. “But that’s why we don’t want people going down there late at night. It’s a beautiful area during the day, but even then, the surf can be unpredictable. And we don’t have the equipment and the response that we would like to have to rescue people.

“This is not Waikiki Beach. This is a 20-foot cliff drop in the district of Puna and the end of Beach Road. And there are horrific conditions out there, at times.”

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Reporter John Burnett can be reached at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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