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To the rescue: Police officers assist motorist left stranded on side of Kaawalii Gulch

The Hawaii Police Department’s mission statement mentions “preserving the spirit of aloha” and “working cooperatively with the community to … provide a safe environment.”

A 68-year-old Hilo cancer survivor told the Tribune-Herald she’s “very, very grateful” to two Hamakua/North Hilo Patrol officers, Paul Isotani and Andres Fojas Jr., for doing just that. The officers came to Nani Malani’s rescue when her 2016 Nissan Versa hit a large rock and blew out her front left tire in Kaawalii Gulch — the most distant from Hilo of three horseshoe gulches on Highway 19 along the Hamakua Coast.

Malani said her mishap occurred at about 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 14 in the left Hilo-bound lane of the gulch as she was returning home from Waimea. She managed to make it to the top on the Laupahoehoe side of the gulch to pull her subcompact car safely off the road.

“I was in a ditch but I really couldn’t see that because it was getting dark already. To me, it was a pretty big thing because I’d hit a big rock,” Malani said.

According to Malani, she had cellphone service and full insurance coverage on her car, including roadside assistance, but spent hours “negotiating” with three different individuals in the continental U.S. — to no avail — as cars passed her by with no one stopping to help.

“I never used my insurance before. The one time I really needed to use it, they didn’t help,” she said. “They said the tow truck drivers in Hilo wouldn’t come out because they were fixing the bridge at Kolekole (Gulch) and they were limiting weight to, like, 12 tons, and they can’t go on the bridge because they’re fixing it.

“One of them said, ‘Why don’t you just lock the car up and go home?’ I said, ‘How?’ I knew if I left the car there, it would be stripped or gone when I came back. Where the car was at, it was a distance to any houses or anything like that.

“I didn’t have a way home, either.’”

Malani said she called her brother in Hilo, who said he would come out to pick her up after he completed his shift at work. She said she was still talking to her insurance company’s mainland claims line at about 9 p.m. when Isotani saw her and stopped.

“He asked if I was all right,” Malani recalled. “I told him I was negotiating with the agent, trying to get a tow truck to come to me. He said he had to leave for another call, but he’d be back.”

In the meantime, Fojas stopped and said he had a call to respond to, but he would also be back.

Both officers delivered on their word to return, Isotani first.

“He said, ‘Looks like only the tire is flat.’ And he said he would help me change it,” Malani explained. “There was all this junk in the car that he had to take out to get to my spare. And then Fojas came, and he helped. It took them awhile to get the spare tire underneath all that stuff.

“These guys had to read my manual book before they got it out. They got me going about 10, maybe 10:15, and I was told not to go more than 40 miles an hour, because it was one of those temporary donut tires.”

Malani said both officers were positive and cheerful.

“These guys were like buddies,” she said. “They were talking story while they changed the tire. They said they were happy to do it.”

Police Chief Paul Ferreira said both are veteran officers, Isotani with 22 years service and Fojas with 18.

“They’re very good officers,” Ferreira said.

The chief said officers are not required to change flats for motorists.

“I’m grateful they did, however, especially if it’s someone disabled on the side of the road,” he added.

Capt. Reynold Kahalewai, commander of Hamakua and North Hilo Patrol Division, said his officers “don’t hesitate to help people when they need help like that.”

“I know for a fact that’s
not an isolated incident,” Kahalewai said. “We’ve had several incidents in the past month or so of motorists needing help. I think it was just last week we had someone by the Mehau Ranch (near Waimea), a 78-year-old man who was having a hard time, as well, and our officers were able to help him” change a flat.

Malani said she thinks police don’t get the credit they deserve for helping people in situations such as hers.

“I’m sure that they do, though. You just don’t hear about it,” she said. “I really want to thank those two officers because they really made a difference in my life that night.”

Email John Burnett at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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