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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 23, 2002

Samaritan detour fatal for Century Bike rider

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Vernon Izuka was trying to help someone else when during yesterday's Century Bike Ride he left the safety of a designated bicycle lane on Kalaniana'ole Highway and went into the path of an on-coming SUV.

Vernon Izuka, shown here in family photo, died yesterday during the annual Century Bike Ride event.

Photo courtesy Gertrude Izuka

Izuka, 61, of 2080 Mahao'o Place in Moanalua, died after he was hit at 6:45 a.m. by a 1989 Nissan Pathfinder driven by a 41-year-old Kaimuki man. He was attempting a U-turn near Ka'ai Street in Wailupe to help a jogger and a bicyclist who had collided in the far-right coned lane of the highway.

Izuka was pronounced dead at The Queen's Medical Center at 7:40 a.m. The driver and his woman passenger, also 41, were not seriously injured. The jogger and biker who collided also escaped serious injury, officials said.

Gertrude Izuka was at home when the hospital called. Her husband of 37 years was dead by the time she got to Queen's.

"I just can't believe he won't be coming home," she said. "I heard he was trying to help someone. That's him."

Terry Rollman, Izuka's riding partner, witnessed the accident. She recalled seeing the jogger running toward them in the coned lane moments before the collision with the bicyclist.

As he always did, Izuka was riding behind and to the left of Rollman to protect her from traffic. When she looked back, he had already entered the two open traffic lanes.

"I saw Vernon and the truck coming," Rollman said. "I'm sure the driver didn't see him until impact. When the truck hit him, Vernon flew into the air. It was so awful."

Rollman said her friend, Dan Smith, a Queen's emergency room physician who was participating in the Century Bike Ride, tended to Izuka before paramedics arrived.

Rollman met Izuka a year ago when he stopped to fix her bike's flat tire at Makapu'u. "This guy is awesome," she said, "he's always helping people."

Carl Ontai, who had been riding with Izuka and Rollman before pulling ahead, learned that his best friend was injured while waiting for Izuka in Waimanalo.

"I couldn't believe it," said Ontai, who has known Izuka for more than 30 years, from their workdays at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. "I was just hoping it wasn't life-threatening.

"I'm going to miss him a lot," said Ontai, who regularly biked 100 miles on Saturdays and Sundays and attended University of Hawai'i-Manoa women's volleyball games with Izuka.

That Izuka was trying to help someone doesn't surprise Ontai. "He's always been like that — it was his nature."

Police Sgt. John Agno, whose work includes investigating vehicular homicide, said it is uncertain if speed was a factor. The traffic death was O'ahu's 47th this year.

John B. Kelley, president of the Hawai'i Bicycling League, said this is the first traffic-related fatality in the 22-year history of the Century Bike Ride, which attracted 1,800 participants yesterday. The event is a ride, not a race, and riders have a choice of doing 20, 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles.

"Our sympathies go out to the Izuka family and to Vernon's bicycling friends," Kelley said. "People have described him as a caring person and a leader who encouraged people to ride."

Izuka is survived by his wife and two daughters. He retired as a mechanical systems inspector from Pearl Harbor and was working for a dental lab.

Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.