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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 6, 2001

Police hoping to open roads sooner following crashes

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Transportation Writer

In the wake of major accidents that shut down highways for hours at a time, state officials and Honolulu police are looking at ways to clear roads more quickly without compromising police investigations.

State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marilyn Kali said department officials were concerned by the eight-hour closure of the H-1 Freeway in Kaimuki after the Aug. 26 accident that killed 58-year-old Elizabeth Kekoa.

Last month, two separate accidents in Pearl City shut down Kamehameha Highway for several hours each, stranding thousands of motorists. In each of the cases, police said they needed to close the roads to gather evidence, such as taking photographs, documenting road conditions and measuring skid marks.

"There is technology being used in Mainland cities to help reduce the length of time that the police need to conduct an investigation," Kali said.

Maj. Robert Prasser of the Honolulu Police Department's traffic division conceded that officers could have reopened H-1 more quickly after the Kaimuki crash, but he said investigators still need proper time "to maintain the integrity of the investigation."

Prasser said he is aware of photo technology for documentation of accidents, but he is concerned whether it will hold up in court.

"Some police departments use aerial photography to help map out accident scenes," Prasser said. "But some attorneys may claim that we digitally altered the photos.

"When there are fatalities involved, we treat it like a homicide scene. We also need time to look at things like skid marks and debris patterns. All those factors help tell a tale.

"We feel we owe the public the best possible investigation, and you want to send forward the best case possible when it is comes up in court a year later."

Police said the investigation of the H-1 accident was especially difficult because debris was spread over a half-mile.

The Pearl City accident Aug. 4 that shut down Kamehameha Highway for a day was also unusual because the car involved had brought down a utility pole. Two people died in that accident.

Prasser said he wants to meet with the police district commanders to come up with a clearer contingency plan to be used during a serious accident or police standoff.

"Another possibility is to cover the farthest perimeter of an accident scene and open the outside lanes as we move along," Prasser said. "But that still depends on the severity of the accident."

Prasser spoke with City Council members yesterday about the concerns about lengthy road closures.

"We need to do better," said Councilman Duke Bainum, the Transportation Committee chairman.

Bainum noted that Prasser brought up possible solutions such as having a ranking on-site commander so the person in charge of the scene and steering traffic away isn't the same person handling the investigation. Ensuring around-the-clock availability of investigative teams was another suggestion.

Prasser he expects to report back the council by October.

Kali said her department has hired a consultant to develop a plan for faster reopening of roads. The department also will meet with other state and city agencies.

Advertiser City Hall writer Robbie Dingeman contributed to this report.

Reach Scott Ishikawa at 525-8070 or sishikawa@honoluluadvertiser.com