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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tot homicide probe opened

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Police yesterday opened a homicide investigation into the death of an 'Ewa Beach toddler.

Dante Puni, 22 months, died Tuesday at The Queen's Medical Center. Paramedics went to a Kaikala Street home Monday at 12:43 p.m. and found the unconscious child's father performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him, according to city Emergency Medical Services workers.

Earlier this week, police began a homicide investigation into the death of a 1-year-old Nanakuli girl who died at about 6 a.m. Monday at Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children. Kamalani Inciong-Smith was taken from her Pilia'au Avenue home by Emergency Medical Services to St. Francis Medical Center-West at 2:30 a.m. Sunday before being transferred to Kapi'olani.

Police made no arrests yesterday in either homicide investigation.

Autopsy reports on Puni and Inciong-Smith listed cause of death as "assaultive head trauma" and "abusive head trauma," respectively. Manner of death, in both cases, was listed as homicide.

According to Honolulu Medical Examiner records, the two homicide cases mark the only ones involving children younger than 5 this year as compared to three cases in 2005.

Police were unavailable for comment yesterday.

Psychologist Steven Choy, director of the Kapi'olani Child Protection Center, said he could not speak specifically about the Puni and Inciong-Smith cases but added that homicides involving young children during the holiday season are not uncommon.

"What the public needs to understand is although it's supposed to be a happy time, if a family is in trouble or under stress, Christmas can be a very bad time for them," Choy said in a general observation based on nearly three decades at the child protection center.

Until this week, Choy said, the center was headed for one of its best years, with no homicide cases involving young children.

"Overall, Hawai'i is doing better," Choy said, adding that the state is under a federal performance-inspired order to improve its numbers. "Four years ago, we had between 11 and 15 deaths. We've been averaging about five a year and have gotten better the past two or three years."

The Kapi'olani Child Protection Center reviews all child- abuse cases to develop prevention strategies but does not get involved with police investigations.

"Our main focus is on risk factors for future abuses and prevention through services," Choy said. "We want to encourage people to let us know about cases so we can intervene while stress is building. We can prevent it then but not after a major explosion."

Choy said the center usually sees more child-abuse cases in the months following Christmas. Among the common "stressors" that trigger emotional explosions that could put a young child at risk are economic factors, homelessness, domestic violence and drugs, Choy said.

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.