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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 25, 2003

High-spirited girl, bike-loving officer mourned

 •  Negligent homicide investigation begins

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ester Espinda, with her husband, Darin, takes a moment at the site where her friend, Honolulu Police Officer Ryan Goto, was killed on Wednesday.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

On Wednesday morning, Alacia Williams arrived at Ma'ili Elementary School with a great big smile.

She and her friends from Girl Scout Troop 361 were going to Headshots at Macy's in Pearlridge Center to get their pictures taken, a reward for earning their photography badges. With her hair done up, the 10-year-old pretended to pose for the camera in the classroom while waiting for everyone else to arrive.

But on their way to Pearlridge, the car Alacia was riding in swerved to avoid hitting a box in the road, then was struck from behind and propelled into the path of five motorcycle officers on Farrington Highway near Honokai Hale. The resulting head-on collision shortly before 10 a.m. killed Alacia and police officer Ryan Goto. Memorials had been set up for both the girl and officer yesterday.

"It's been shock and disbelief," said Juli Patten, Alacia's fourth-grade teacher at Ma'ili Elementary and the Girl Scout troop leader. "She was just here that morning, in my classroom."

Yesterday, the first day |of school at Ma'ili Elementary, friends, classmates and teachers remembered Alacia as a personable, friendly girl who was full of life. Many had placed bouquets of flowers, balloons and teddy bears at the crash site. One sign read, in a child's handwriting, "We love you all ways Alica (sic)."

"She was always smiling, always willing to share whatever she had," said Patten, struggling to hold back tears. "She was very brave."

She recalled how Alacia didn't mind staying in a tent by herself last week when the troop went camping at Kalaeloa. On Friday the girls went to Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park, and Alacia was the only one who went down all the slides, even the scary Cliffhanger.

She even got Patten's 7-year-old daughter, who wasn't tall enough for some of the slides, to take a swim test so she could bypass the height requirement. Alacia didn't have to take the test — she was tall enough — but she went to support her friend.

"She said, 'C'mon, we'll pass the swimming test,'" Patten recalled. "She got in the water even though she was tall enough. And she did that on her own. She was brave, and she wanted everyone to be brave, too."

Schoolmates deal with loss

Sue Geer, left, and daughter Samantha Memmott place tributes where Girl Scout Alacia Williams was killed. Geer's daughter Angela is a fellow Scout.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Alacia would have been a fifth-grader at Ma'ili Elementary. She had been a Girl Scout for about two years.

The atmosphere at the school yesterday was solemn.

This was the second death of a Ma'ili Elementary student in a month. Matthew Brzezowski was struck by a vehicle and killed June 27 along with his father as they walked across Farrington Highway. Matthew would have been in second grade this year.

To help children who were having a difficult time dealing with Alacia's death, the school organized a 45-minute grief counseling session in the morning. Thirty-one children, including her classmates and fellow Girl Scouts, attended.

"It's very traumatic, very depressing," said Ma'ili principal Linda Victor. "She was a good student, just as excited about school as any other child."

The grieving session was led by behavioral specialist Dick Trahan, who said it was the first time some of them had heard Alacia had been killed.

"This school has been hit hard," Trahan said.

Mary Bollig was driving some of the Scouts in one of four cars headed to Pearlridge Center. They saw the entire accident unfold. Bollig's first thought was to tend to the girls in her car, to make sure they were OK.

"It's just so sad," she said tearfully.

Alacia had been in the front seat of her mother's Dodge Stratus. Karen Williams was recovering at The Queen's Medical Center yesterday and declined to speak with The Advertiser.

The crash site along Farrington Highway yesterday had also became a memorial for Officer Goto.

Two balloons tied to a highway sign bore his name, and friends stopped by to lay flowers and lei in his memory.

Ester Espinda, a close friend of Goto's, clutched one of his business cards that she found in the still-smoldering ravine where the motorcycles caught fire after the accident.

"I wanted to have a memory of him," she said quietly. "He died so quickly, so young. He was always a good friend ... I wanted to let him know that he was loved."

Parents worry about safety

Juli Patten, left, and Mary Bollig embrace at Ma'ili Elementary after talking about 10-year-old Alacia Williams, who was a student there.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

In the arms of her husband, Darin Espinda, Ester placed three lei for the three officers on a rock in the ravine. Overwhelmed with sadness, she could barely walk without the help of her husband. Ester Espinda and Goto last spoke on the phone on Monday, she said; she told him to ride carefully.

"He loved doing what he did no matter how dangerous it was," she said, choking on tears. "He loved the friends he rode with. He loved the freedom of being on a bike."

Police Chief Lee Donohue visited the site at about 11 a.m. just to "stop by," he said. "It's so ironic. Officers out on a nice day, doing the job they have to do, and this happens. It's fate."

The freak nature of the accident worries Wai'anae Coast parents about the safety of their children — even in a car.

"This was something so out of the blue," said Momi Dela Cruz, 31, of Ma'ili, whose daughter Kilani was Alacia's classmate. "I'm so concerned about my kids ... It's so sad. I can't believe it was her."

The highway memorial is a testament: Those who knew Alacia don't want people to forget her.

"It was more than just a police officer and a 10-year-old girl that died," Patten said. "It was Alacia, and she was a wonderful, wonderful kid."

Advertiser staff writer Vicki Viotti contributed to this report. Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.