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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 3:35 p.m., Thursday, June 12, 2003

Traffic fatalities up 29 percent on O'ahu

Advertiser Staff

Police traffic accident investigators in Honolulu are alarmed by a high percentage of fatal crashes this year that have involved either speed or alcohol, two categories that have zoomed ahead of previous tallies.

Of the 29 fatal accidents this year, 93 percent involved excessive speed and 58 percent involved alcohol, said Maj. Bryan Wauke, head of the Honolulu Police Department's traffic division.

Normally, speed is the dominant factor in about 60 to 70 percent of fatalities and alcohol the factor in 30 to 40 percent of fatalities, Wauke said.

Connie Abram, executive director of the Hawai'i chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, called this year's statistics a crisis "on the verge of being an epidemic."

"These numbers are so startling, that it is something that communities should not tolerate," Abram said. "These numbers should strike fear in almost everyone on the highway."

So far this year, there have been 36 fatalities involving vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, mopeds and pedestrians on O'ahu roads. That's eight more than at this time in 2002 and in 2001, a 28.6 percent increase.

Some of them involved only a single person, like the crash along Kunia Road in January that killed a 24-year-old Navy man. The victim, Scott D. Miller, was thrown from his Mercury Cougar. Police said speed was a factor.

Other accidents claimed several lives in a single crash.

In March, five men and boys were killed near Hale'iwa when the car they were in slammed into a date palm at nearly 100 mph. According to the city medical examiner, the 22-year-old driver, Shannon A. Waiwaiole, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.142 percent. Hawai'i's legal limit is 0.08.

"The alcohol-related fatality rates this year are staggering and we don't know why," Abram said. "We probably won't know until the end of the year when we can look back at age groups and locations."

Wauke also has no ready explanation for the rise in numbers. But in the next few weeks Wauke won't say when police will begin "additional campaigns" to catch drunk drivers and slow down speeders, he said.

He won't predict how drivers will react. Speed enforcement and drunk driving checkpoints often affect driver behavior more than the fear of being killed, he said.

"We don't know if it is because of the campaigns we put on or just luck," Wauke said.

Either way, drivers could be more responsible, he said.

"They know speed will kill them," he said. "Maybe they think it won't happen to them."

Each traffic fatality generates a telephone call from an officer at the scene, "even at 2:30 in the morning," said Lt. Bennett Martin, who supervises the vehicular homicide investigators.

Bennett said the officers find the current rise in accidents "absolutely alarming."

"These are senseless," he said. "All these things could be prevented. Just don't drink and drive."

How the rest of the year will go is impossible to predict, he said.

In 2002, O'ahu had 68 traffic-related deaths, including 17 that involved alcohol. The year before saw higher numbers: 79 deaths, including 26 with victims driving under the influence.

"I would hope this trend would not continue," Martin said. "Of course, that is always our hope."