A South Kohala community is mourning the death of a 13-year-old pedestrian killed in a crash involving a suspected drunken driver Thursday evening in Waikoloa Village.
The girl, whom police identified Friday evening as Augustina James, a student at Waikoloa Middle School, was walking with a teenage boy on the mauka sidewalk of Iwikuamo’o Drive around 6:30 p.m. Thursday when the crash occurred in the Kamakoa Nui subdivision, not far from Kamakoa Nui Park.
According to police, a southbound black 2007 Honda Accord four-door sedan driven by 21-year-old Waikoloa resident Jaychris Romer apparently drove off the mauka side of the roadway struck the juveniles. After striking the teens and a transformer filled with 20 to 30 gallons of oil, the vehicle rolled over several times into a vacant lot. The debris field stretched some 200 feet from the sidewalk.
A nearby resident, who asked his name not be published, was among the first on the scene Thursday evening and returned to the site Friday morning. He said he witnessed the vehicle involved in the crash speeding on Iwikuamo’o Drive seconds before hearing two loud bangs.
“We were just going to sit down for dinner, when I heard a car, saw its lights, it flashed by fast,” the man said, estimating the vehicle’s speed at 70 mph to 80 mph as it passed through the 20-mph zone. “That car flashed past our house.”
After the wreck, he and his daughter headed to the area. However, because nightfall was setting in and the crash triggered a large dust cloud and knocked out streetlights, it was hard to see and he initially did not realize a pedestrian had been struck.
The resident stated he first came upon a young man hunched over, who reported he’d been ejected from the vehicle and that the driver was still stuck inside. An off-duty police chaplain then arrived on scene and summoned emergency medical services and police. Arriving officers then cordoned off the area, he said.
He later learned a girl, a classmate of his daughter, had been fatally struck, landing nearly 200 feet in the vacant lot where he’d witnessed a helicopter using its spotlight over medics performing CPR.
On Friday, a pair of shoes remained at the site of the crash. A woman who said the girl was her niece collected them in tears before leaving.
Michelle Barber, principal at Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School, said students at the K-8 school were taking the loss of their classmate pretty hard.
Multiple schools in the district sent counselors to assist staff in helping students. Additional counselors will be on campus on Monday as well.
“It saddens me to inform you of the recent passing of one of our students. On behalf of the administration, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Augustina James. This loss has deeply affected our school community. Augustina was a wonderful individual, whose smile and bubbly personality will be missed dearly. At this time, the family requests your cooperation to let them navigate this unfortunate event privately. No other information will be shared at this time. Please keep them in your thoughts,” Barber wrote in a letter tendered to parents Friday.
“I’ve been crying off and on all day,” said resident Laura Watts. “It’s a small village, you know how it is.”
Watts came to the scene Friday morning to pay her respects to the girl and her family, though she did not know them personally. She draped a shell lei, which she said had been her “good luck lei” that she kept in her vehicle, for the youngster.
“I love this village. We’re all family here,” she said before heading on her way.
According to police, the girl was transported to the Kona Community Hospital where she was pronounced dead at 11:38 p.m.
Romer, the driver of the Honda sedan, and a 16-year-old boy, also of Waikoloa, were taken to North Hawaii Community Hospital for treatment. Each was treated for their injuries and released.
Romer was later arrested on suspicion of first-degree negligent homicide, operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant and driving without a license. He was later released pending further investigation and toxicology results.
Police stated investigators believe that speed and impairment are possible factors in the collision.
An autopsy has been ordered to determine the exact cause of death.
Anyone who may have witnessed the crash to contact Officer Jason Foxworthy at (808) 326-4646, ext. 229, or email at Jason.email@example.com.
Thursday’s traffic fatality is the third in West Hawaii in less than a week and the 25th of 2021, the same amount of fatalities reported on public roads in all of 2019, prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a Wednesday press release raising awareness to the uptick in fatalities, police said 11 of the 24 fatal crashes as of that date involved impaired drivers.
In 2020, Hawaii County reported 15 fatalities amid reduced traffic on streets due to restrictions that have since been relaxed.
Traffic Enforcement Unit Sgt. Thomas Koyanagi said officers would be stepping up patrols, working to nab intoxicated drivers. He said speed, impairment and distraction are the most common factors in deadly crashes and urged motorists to drive safer.
“There’s no excuses to do things that cost people’s lives,” he said, noting that the same applies to Thursday’s fatal crash involving a suspected drunken driver, the same as the two prior deaths on Saturday and Sunday in South Kona. “There’s no reason to speed, no reason to be on your phone or driving after drinking.
He later added, “everybody think it’s just a car, but it’s a weapon on wheels.”
Since Jan. 1, 2010, 278 people have died on public roadways in Hawaii County. The police department does not include fatalities that occur on private roads in its data.
The deadliest year on record, according to Hawaii County databooks, was 1991 when 48 people died on isle roads, followed by 1990 with 47 fatalities; 1998 with 44 fatalities; 2004 with 41 fatalities, and 1988, 2000 and 2012 with 38 deaths each year.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald