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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Homeless man finally gets his plane ticket home

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

William Demacose flew home to California last night, helped by the same people who had rousted him out of Honolulu International Airport on a regular basis.

John Chun, left, and William Fonoti, Akal Security guards at the Honolulu airport, took time to listen to a homeless man's story about wanting to buy a plane ticket home.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Demacose, a homeless man in his 80s, had "a great big smile" on his face as he waited to board a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Los Angeles, according to two private security guards who helped make the trip possible.

The Akal Security guards, William Fonoti and John Chun, were chasing Demacose from the airport early yesterday, as they had done at least several times in the past month, when something just clicked.

"OK, just this once, I said, tell me your story," Fonoti told him.

That's when Demacose, who apparently had been in and out of the Islands for years, said he just wanted to buy a ticket to see his family near Monterey.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, airport guards had been so conditioned to chasing the homeless away from tourists that they had apparently kept Demacose from getting near the counter, they said.

So after his shift ended as an airport bicycle security supervisor yesterday morning, a still doubtful Fonoti escorted Demacose to the airline counter, where he took $900 hidden in the stitches of his jacket collar and bought a one-way ticket.

Then, knowing that the dirty, smelly man would still have problems with security when he tried to board, Fonoti and Chun went into action.

Chun stayed with Demacose at the airport, while Fonoti went first to Ross Stores to buy him new traveling clothes and then to Sears for shoes.

Next, they took him to Sand Island State Park to shower, shave, brush his teeth and put on a little dab of cologne. "He was so thankful, you could see tears in his eyes," Fonoti said.

By 7 p.m. the two guards were back at the airport where they planned to help Demacose get on the plane. But he was nowhere to be found.

Clearly worried, the two raced from one end of the airport to the other, seeking any sign of the man. They checked homeless hiding spots and wondered if he had met with foul play.

Demacose surprised them once again, by being in the airline departure gate, where he had been for hours. He was so worried about getting on the flight that he refused to come out of the gate to take a picture with Chun and Fonoti, who had big grins of relief knowing he was safe.

"It just goes to show that if you take a little time to listen, you never know what sort of person you might find under the surface," Fonoti said.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.