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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Head-on collision kills one, shuts down Pali traffic

Investigators study the scene of a fatal crash on the Kailua-bound side of the Pali Highway. The collision, which happened before noon, backed up traffic into the night.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Peter Boylan and Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

A multi-vehicle accident that killed one woman closed the Pali Highway in both directions for almost four hours yesterday, snarling traffic in the Kailua-bound direction from the Punchbowl cutoff to the Queen Emma Summer Palace.

Three other people were injured in the crash.

Lt. Bennett Martin, supervisor of Honolulu police vehicular homicide investigations, said a tractor-trailer carrying gravel headed town-bound on the Pali crossed the center median and collided head-on with a Kailua-bound van at about 11:45 a.m. A Handi-Van also was hit, and several other vehicles were damaged by debris, Martin said.

Police did not know why the tractor-trailer veered out of its lane.

Donnie Gates, assistant chief of city Emergency Medical Services, said four people were taken to The Queen's Medical Center, one in "extremely critical" condition, another in serious condition and two others with minor injuries.

Police said a front-seat passenger in the Kailua-bound van died at Queen's, and the driver was in critical condition.

Rosita Wong, a Nu'uanu resident who was directly behind the van, said she saw the tractor-trailer barreling toward her on the Kailua-bound side near Country Club Road and the palace, and immediately slammed on her brakes. She said she saw the truck hit the van in front of her and then flip over onto the grass.

Engine parts spilled from a van hit by a tractor-trailer. A passenger in the van died at the hospital, and the driver was in critical condition.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Wong's windshield was shattered by flying debris.

"I saw (the crash) but I don't remember exactly," she said.

Wong said she was lucky to be alive.

Late yesterday afternoon, debris still littered the highway as the tractor-trailer sat on the embankment in front of the palace. A telephone pole that had been hit as the trailer spun down the embankment was snapped in two and rested in the truck bed, which was slightly askew from the cab.

The van was a few feet away, its hood torn away and engine parts spilled onto the highway. The roof was crushed to within a few inches of the seats.

At about 4:50 p.m. yesterday, police had set up contraflow traffic in the town-bound lane of the Pali.

"I don't think we've had anything like this in a while," said Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa.

When the tractor-trailer knocked down the utility pole, about 1,000 Hawaiian Electric Co. customers in the Nu'uanu area lost power for about 45 minutes. HECO spokeswoman Pepi Nieva said power was restored at 12:28 p.m.

The death is O'ahu's 81st traffic fatality of the year.

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.