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

Negligent homicide investigation begins

 •  High-spirited girl, bike-loving officer mourned

By Allison Schaefers
Advertiser Staff Writer

Police investigators are interviewing witnesses, studying the crash site and examining evidence to determine if negligence played a role in the chain-reaction accident that killed a motorcycle police officer and 10-year-old girl Wednesday.

A negligent homicide investigation into the accident near Honokai Hale is under way.

Officer Ryan K. Goto, 35, and 10-year-old Alacia Williams, who would have started fifth grade yesterday at Ma'ili Elementary School, were killed and five others injured when a cardboard box fell from a pickup truck and started a chain reaction.

Karen Williams, 45, was driving a Dodge Stratus carrying her daughter Alacia and two other children when she swerved to avoid the box and was rear-ended by the driver of a Ford Mustang. The impact pushed Williams' car across the Farrington Highway median and into five motorcycle police officers.

"This could have happened to anyone," said Honolulu Police Department Sgt. Robert Lung of the vehicular homicide unit. "Driving is a very complicated thing, contrary to what most people think. Anytime you get in the car whether or not there is debris on the road there's a risk — whether or not you increase that risk depends on how you drive."

The investigation will look into possible negligence factors, such as whether the large box that fell onto the roadway had been properly secured, as well as speed and possible inattentiveness by the drivers of the Stratus and Mustang, said police Lt. John Agno of the vehicular homicide unit.

Seeing debris on O'ahu's roadways is not unusual. What the state Department of Transportation collects daily will fill a large garbage truck, said Scott Ishikawa, DOT spokesman.

It's also common to see people making traffic decisions based on gut-reaction rather than good driving habits or traffic rules, Lung said.

"It happens all the time .People aren't paying attention and suddenly they come upon something in the roadway. They jam on the brakes and swerve without even looking," Lung said.

Wednesday's accident "all happened in a blink of an eye," Agno said. "The (officers) had no chance at all to take any evasive movement."

The officers were in a 2-2-1 formation, with Goto and officers David Bega and Paul Javier closest to the median.

Bega and Javier, who fellow officers said suffered broken bones and spinal injuries, remained in guarded condition yesterday at The Queen's Medical Center. Williams was in fair condition at Queen's. The two girls, ages 11 and 9, who were also passengers in her car are in good condition at Kapi'olani Medical Center-Pali Momi, police said.

It could take investigators six months or more to determine if any drivers violated the law, Lung said.

"There's always a civil liability; the criminal liability remains to be seen," he said.

It's not unusual for months to go by, or sometimes years, before charges are filed in fatal cases, said vehicular homicide officer Ray Lurbe.

Staff writers Kawehi Haug, Rod Ohira and Will Hoover contributed to this report.