NORTH KOHALA — Sections of Akoni Pule Highway in North Kohala were shut down Thursday as police continued to investigate shootings a week apart from each other in North Hawaii.
Motorists traveling south on the highway, also known as Highway 270, were either stopped or turned around Thursday as Hawaii Island police continued the investigation into shooting suspect Walter Gomes III, who reportedly shot a woman in the face March 20. He was later involved in three officer-involved shootings March 21 — one in Kona by Costco and two in Hawi.
The 41-year-old escaped capture after fleeing into the North Kohala brush after crashing into a police cruiser. Eight officers have been put on administrative leave.
The Hawaii Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards is investigating, as is standard operating procedure in all officer-involved shootings.
Additionally, police are investigating an incident that occurred Wednesday morning in Wainaia Gulch during which a 37-year-old man was shot at least twice by an unknown party. The victim was taken by police to North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea then later flown in serious condition to The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu.
“We’re looking for the shooter from the gulch and Walter Gomes,” said Lt. Roylen Valera on Thursday, adding that at this point investigators don’t think Gomes is connected with Wednesday’s shooting.
Wednesday’s incident closed the highway for most of the morning and prompted a lockdown of Kohala Middle School from about 9:35 a.m. until students were released for the day at about 1:35 p.m. Students are normally released at 12:55 p.m. on Wednesdays.
For about four hours on Thursday, police did additional investigation into the Gomes officer-involved shootings, which took place at Minit Stop and Ohana Fuels on Hawi and Hoea roads. The road closures, from Upolu Airport to Hoea Road, hampered traffic throughout the morning.
Sitting outside the police station in Kapaau on Thursday morning, Valera remarked how these crimes are not typical for North Kohala.
“It’s uncharacteristic of West Hawaii to have these types of incidents,” he said.
Residents in Hawi on Thursday remained upbeat and relatively unfazed by the investigations. One resident who works near the Minit Stop recalled seeing officers investigating the scene at the gas station.
“It’s not usual,” he said. “But we deal with it and move on.”
Island visitors also continued to roam the streets and peruse the businesses of Hawi and Kapaau. Kekai Bello, who works at Kohala Coffee Mill in Hawi, said people came looking at maps to find ways to get to different parts of the island. For residents, she added, everyone is still cautious and wondering if Gomes is still in the area.
The Wednesday shooting once again put North Kohala residents on edge.
“Everyone’s first thought was, was this Walter Gomes?” Bello said. “Everyone was just like, ‘What’s going on? This doesn’t happen in North Kohala.’”
Email Tiffany DeMasters at email@example.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald