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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Crash survivor recalls ordeal

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — John Richard Davis talked about how grateful he was to be alive yesterday after a wild ride down a cliff in Waipi'o Valley Friday night that killed his friend.

John Richard Davis recuperates at the Hilo Medical Center after surviving his pickup's crash down a 300-foot embankment that killed passenger Curtis Kailiwai.

Tim Wright • The Honolulu Advertiser

Davis, 35, was interviewed at Hilo Medical Center where he was being treated for a compound fracture of his left leg. His passenger and friend, Curtis A. Kailiwai, 44, was killed in the crash. Police have opened a negligent homicide investigation. Davis, who was interviewed by police yesterday, declined to discuss the details of what led up to the fatal crash.

Kailiwai, who lived in nearby Pa'ahau, was a close friend of Davis, who wept while describing Kailiwai as "a very good brother to me."

Police said Davis' pickup truck was about two-thirds of the way up the steep unpaved Waipi'o Valley access road at about 8:30 p.m. Friday when it went over an embankment and plunged more than 300 feet to the beach below. Kailiwai couldn't get out of the truck and was killed. Davis somehow escaped or fell out of the truck and was found wedged in a tree about 100 feet above the beach. He was airlifted to safety at about 8 a.m. Saturday morning by emergency workers and two county helicopters.

Davis said yesterday that he stuck his broken leg into the tree's roots to keep from falling the rest of the way down the cliff.

Yesterday, with his fiancee, Leila, at his side, Davis told of how her son, his brother and 11 others found him and saved his life..

Although Davis declined to be critical, his family and friends said that he was found at 2:30 a.m. Saturday and could have been rescued earlier.

But Assistant Fire Chief Chris Pung and fire rescue personnel said Davis was lucky not to have been moved during darkness. "A rock fall by a guy going down the steep slope might have killed him," said Pung. He said three units were involved in the rescue.

Fire rescue workers had said that they searched for Davis Friday night but could not find him. They said thick fog hampered their efforts.

Davis said he has no quarrel with the rescue personnel who airlifted him to the parking lot at Waipi'o Valley overlook and then on to the medical center.

"It was by the grace of God that I am alive," he said. Davis said he believes his experience as an opihi picker along the Hilo and Hamakua coastlines helped him to survive while he waited for help.

Thirteen people, by his fiancee's count, worked to find Davis and stayed with him until rescue workers arrived. Her son, Jesse Kunishige, brother David Davis, 31, and Dominic Gomes descended the cliff by using a doubled 1,200-foot rope attached to a truck on the road. They had heard Davis whistling and yelling for help .

Fire rescue workers who scoured the area until about midnight believe Davis may have been unconscious immediately after his fall out of the pickup truck. The 1998 Chevrolet had rolled over several times before crashing on the beach.