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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 2, 2006

Former HPD chief Nakamura dies at 58

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Former Honolulu Police Chief Michael Nakamura used an electric scooter after his spinal muscular atrophy condition worsened.


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Born April 9, 1947

Graduated from Farrington High School, 1965

Joined Air Force, 1965

Joined HPD, 1970

Named HPD chief, 1990

Retired from HPD, 1997

Was victim of hit-and-run accident, 2004. (Driver Anthony G. Pearce II, 21, pleaded guilty and was recently sentenced to five years’ probation.)

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Former Honolulu Police Chief Michael Nakamura, who brought the idea of community policing to HPD and later fought for better services for disabled people, died yesterday at Kuakini Medical Center surrounded by family and friends.

Nakamura would have turned 59 on April 9.

Long after his retirement from the department on Dec. 30, 1997, Nakamura was still referred to as "Chief" whenever he was seen around town.

He had been famous for always calling every HPD employee on their birthdays no matter how busy he was running the department. As death drew closer yesterday, Nakamura whispered to his youngest son, Keola, to remember to call Nakamura's Auntie Sachie on her birthday yesterday, said Nakamura's younger brother, Glenn.

"He said, 'Don't tell her I'm in the hospital,' but she already knew," Glenn Nakamura said. "That's something hard to fathom knowing the condition he was in to make that request."

Nakamura, like his two younger brothers, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a condition that he traced to his days at Farrington High School, when his muscles often cramped up or would go into spasms after exercising.

"It's been a struggle for him for a while," Glenn Nakamura said. "He had been having difficulty breathing and swallowing this past week."

When he died around 1 p.m. yesterday, Nakamura was surrounded by nearly 40 people in the hospital's critical care unit, Glenn Nakamura said.

"All of us were with him," Glenn Nakamura said. "They just kind of let everyone gather around."

Nakamura was raised in Kalihi. His father was a carpenter. His mother worked at Love's Bakery and a neighborhood grocery store.

Before Nakamura graduated from Farrington in 1965, his father, Stanley "Slim" Nakamura, fell three stories on a job and fractured a disk, then started developing muscle spasms and cramps.

As the symptoms worsened, the family believed Slim had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. He was in his 30s.

When Michael Nakamura reached his 30s, all of his muscles would lock after he played tennis. As a police officer, Nakamura later recalled, his muscles would sometimes twitch for no reason.

One year before his retirement after 28 years with HPD, Nakamura had begun using a $2,500 scooter given to him by the Police Relief Association.

Outside of police work, Nakamura threw himself into new passions mentoring a former gang member; obtaining a master's degree in arts and organizational management from the University of Phoenix; and pursuing an unsuccessful 2002 run for City Council, in which Nakamura campaigned to improve services for people with disabilities.

On Sept. 29, 2004, Nakamura was navigating his scooter across Lanikuhana Avenue in Mililani when he was hit by a car driven by Anthony G. Pearce II, who fled the scene.

In the hospital emergency room, Nakamura greeted his former police aide, Debora Tandal, by apologizing for not calling Tandal on her birthday.

"Here he was in the emergency room and he said, 'Sorry I didn't get a chance to call you,' " said Tandal, now an HPD major in charge of the department's Pearl City station. "He thought that people were special and that calling them on their birthdays was one way of letting them know how special they were."

Pearce faced a maximum 10 years in prison, but was sentenced instead to five years' probation and ordered to pay $4,647 in restitution at the rate of $25 a month.

The accident left Nakamura with two broken legs. The fractures released fat emboli into his system, which led to mini-strokes that affected his arms and legs.

In an interview last year, Nakamura said, "there is no anger (toward Pearce). He came to visit me right after, but I wasn't conscious ... I'm glad he took responsibility for what happened."

Yesterday, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said in a statement that Nakamura's "forgiveness of the young man who struck him down was an indication of the kind of man Mike Nakamura was. That generous act embodied the Christmas spirit, and that is why we chose Chief Mike to be the guest of honor at our very first Kapolei City Lights ceremony just last December."

After the collision, Nakamura could not leave home on his own. He relied on constant care from his wife Carol and son Keola.

"He was a good friend, a consummate gentleman and one of the finest law enforcement officers to serve the people of Hawai'i," said City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle. "They ought to be talking about his courage in the face of adversity."

As chief, Nakamura "wasn't some sort of distant authority," Carlisle said. "His whole idea was to let other people empower themselves and do the best that they could do. He had a remarkable foresight to understand the levels of cooperation that were necessary between law enforcement agencies. That's what everybody talks about now connecting the dots. He was doing that before anybody started talking about it.

"The last thing I'll say is, I miss my friend already. It's tough."

Nakamura is survived by his wife, Carol; sons, Reid and Keola; mother, Nancy; brothers, Morris and Glenn; and sister, Audrey Morales. Services are pending.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.