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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Maui officer survives shooting

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

KAPALUA, Maui — Police last night were continuing their hunt for a man in a battered gray car who shot a police officer during a traffic stop on Honoapi'ilani Highway near Kapalua.

Patrol officer Donald B. Nakooka, 31, was hit in the abdomen, but a Kevlar vest stopped the bullet, said Deputy Chief Kekuhaupio Akana.

Nakooka, a 10-year veteran of the Maui Police Department, was in stable condition at Maui Memorial Medical Center last night with bruises and other minor injuries.

It was the first shooting of a police officer on Maui since 1985.

The department just recently began requiring patrol officers, narcotics officers and others in high-risk assignments to wear the protective vests.

"There is no doubt in my mind that it saved his life," Akana said. "This is a case of God being on our side."

The shooting occurred just before 2 p.m. on the highway between Office Road and D.T. Fleming Beach Park. Nakooka had pulled over the driver of an old, gray four-door sedan for not having any license plates, said acting Lt. Jamie Becraft. The man in the car fired a shot at the officer as he approached. Nakooka did not have a chance to shoot back, Becraft said.

There were no other passengers in the shooter's car, police said.

The man fled toward Lahaina.

Nakooka was able to use his radio to report an "officer down" call, triggering a massive police response.

Because Honoapi'ilani Highway is the only road in or out of West Maui, police stationed officers at either end of the road to check passing motorists. Officers were brought in from detective, vice, juvenile and other sections to assist in the manhunt, and two helicopters scanned the Lahaina area looking for the gray car.

"At this point, patience and time are on our side," Akana said.

Akana called Nakooka "a seasoned officer who's a consistent performer. He's a veteran of the streets."

The officer is the son of entertainer Jesse Nakooka of Maui, and his mother, Terry, is a police radio dispatcher. She was not on duty when the shooting occurred.

Although officers often are faced with dangerous situations involving guns or other weapons, police shootings are rare on Maui. The last such incident occurred in 1985, when a police officer was shot and seriously wounded with his own gun during a scuffle with a man during a traffic stop in Wailuku.

Akana said yesterday's shooting brought home "the shocking reality of the changes Maui has been through," and that "in a heartbeat or a millisecond, things can turn bad for our officers."

"We thank God we went to mandatory vest use."

A federal grant last year allowed the Police Department to buy 350 protective vests. Later, a rule was implemented requiring officers to wear them.

The deputy chief said Nakooka was a firm believer in wearing a protective vest and often urged his fellow officers to do the same. "He wore one even when it wasn't mandatory. He was akamai in that way," Akana said.

Honolulu officers who work on the street have been required to wear the bulletproof vests since October 1999.