TRAGEDY AT TANTALUS
A phone call, then death
|||Shooting suspect a mentally ill ward|
|||Robbery soon devolved into 'heinous crime'|
|||'If you ... resist, I'm going to kill you'|
|||Cab drivers fear dangers of Round Top area|
|||Despite occasional crime, Tantalus safe to residents|
By Dan Nakaso and Gordon Pang
Advertiser Staff Writers
By Dan Nakaso and Gordon Pang
Lianne Takamori called her parents on a cell phone Thursday night and told them she had touched down in Los Angeles from Honolulu without incident. She said she was safe. Perhaps most important of all, she told her parents that she loved them.
Only yesterday did Takamori — the only child of Colleen and Jason Takamori — realize that she ended the call just moments before her parents were shot to death as they enjoyed the scenic view from Tantalus lookout.
A friend in Hawai'i yesterday told Lianne Takamori, 23, that there had been a triple homicide on Round Top Drive Thursday night, one of the worst cases of random violence in Honolulu history.
It was then that Takamori realized that the time of the shootings — 7:15 p.m. — coincided with her call to her parents — 10:15 p.m. California time.
"As soon as my friend told me that, I pretty much knew," Takamori said. "I knew that it was my parents."
"They just said that they were at Tantalus," Takamori said. "They sounded pretty happy to be there. I had flown in to LAX and I talked to my parents to tell them I was safe. I told them I got picked up by my friend. I told them I loved them and then I hung up the phone."
Yesterday, in the aftermath of the killings, portraits began to emerge through the eyes of friends and family of the three victims: Colleen and Jason Takamori, both 53, and taxicab driver Manh Nguyen, 50, who had driven the alleged suspect up Round Top Drive to the Tantalus lookout just before the shootings.
Several of the Takamoris' neighbors and friends yesterday said they were startled to realize that they had been up at the lookout Thursday night.
"They were homebodies," said Colleen's lifelong neighbor, Lowell Kalapa, president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii who grew up on Makini Street in Kapahulu with her. "It is out of character. I just don't imagine them being out there at sunset taking pictures."
But Lianne said her parents had been recently scheduling date nights out.
"It wasn't a surprise to me that my parents were at Tantalus because they would do mini-adventures," she said, "especially since I've been away at college."
At The Cab, driver Manh Nguyen stuck out among the 600 other drivers.
He was friendly, dedicated and respected, said The Cab president and owner Howard Higa.
"I can't say enough about him," Higa said. "He was just the kind of guy that if you took a ride with him once, you'd be back."
Nguyen worked at The Cab for three years. Before joining the company, Nguyen drove cabs at Honolulu International Airport with the State Independent Drivers Association.
He immigrated to Hawai'i from Vietnam about 25 years ago.
Taxi driver Cuong Nguyen said he had known Manh Nguyen for about 15 years, and described him as "a very nice guy."
"He's a good friend, a very good family man," he said.
Nguyen's family declined comment yesterday and asked for their privacy. Services are being planned, and The Cab has offered to pay for the funeral. The Cab drivers were also planning to set up a fund for Nguyen's family.
A tight-knit association of Vietnamese taxi drivers from other companies was also planning to pitch in, though details were not concrete.
Higa said Nguyen was a family man, with at least two children. The driver was nicknamed "The Manh," a play on his first name.
"I still am distraught," Higa said. "Our whole staff is. We've got probably over 50 people who knew him in the company. It's shocking."
Higa said he was notified Thursday night of the shooting, and later learned Nguyen was the driver involved. "It's one of those things — wrong place, wrong time," Higa said. "It's just a big loss."
The mood at The Cab offices on Alakea Street yesterday was gloomy, and many of those who knew Nguyen did not want to speak for fear of crying.
Higa said he has no plans to increase security at The Cab, but has warned his drivers to be on the lookout for erratic passengers.
"My condolences really go out to the family as well as the people who tried to assist him," Higa said. "It was a senseless death."
Colleen and Jason Takamori were both 53 years old, but Jason had been one year behind her in school. He went to Roosevelt High School. She went to Saint Francis School.
Lianne believes they met at Kapi'olani Community College while Colleen studied nursing and her dad took culinary arts classes.
They lived in the same home on Makini Street where Colleen was born and raised — the same home where she took care of her parents until their deaths.
"Growing up, she was the baby of the group," Kalapa said. "She played with her dolls and stuff while the guys played peewee baseball in the middle of the street, back in the time before we even had sidewalks and curbings."
Jason became a plumber but had to retire because of bad knees, then focused his energies on his love of music.
Local musicians called Jason Takamori a "gentle giant" with a passion for old-fashioned jazz and swing music who was willing to work any gig at any time.
Jazz drummer Noel Okimoto was 13 when he joined the Ebb Tides, a variety band founded in the 1960s that continues to play today. Too young to drive, he was shuttled around to gigs and practices by Jason Takamori, who was about six years older.
"We were really close," said Okimoto, now 47, of Takamori. The Ebb Tides played practically every weekend, "mostly weddings," he said.
The two saw each other less in recent years but reunited about six weeks ago when the family of Francis Hookano, a fellow musician with whom the two had played, asked for help sorting out his instruments.
"It was great to see him again — we went out and had lunch," Okimoto said. As they'd done in the past, they talked about their favorite subject. "Music was always his passion and his love and he never lost that."
Larry Fukunaga, the founder of the Ebb Tides, said Takamori could always be counted on in a pinch when the call went out for a bass player who didn't need to read music. "He had a fantastic ear and a good feel for the music," Fukunaga said.
Harold Chang said he and Takamori played together off and on for the last four decades, including more than 10 years with the Ebb Tides.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, the two had been rehearsing with the 18-piece Monday Night Band at the Musicians Association of Hawaii Local 677 AFM office on Kapi'olani Boulevard.
Chang plays the drums. Takamori was the lone bassist.
"He was a good bass player; he's played with everybody in town almost, at one time or another," Chang said.
Chang said Takamori also taught plumbing at Honolulu Community College.
Takamori had a big heart, Chang said. "Anybody who died, he would volunteer his services" as a musician, Chang said.
So Chang has no doubt Takamori's generosity will be repaid when a memorial is held for him.
"I know we'll have a big performance there, wherever it's held," he said.
No services have been scheduled yet, Lianne Takamori said.
She graduated with honors from the University of California-Irvine on June 18 with a degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in management.
Lianne's parents had stayed with her in Orange County after her graduation. Then she flew back to Honolulu and stayed from June 26 through Thursday.
On Monday, she was scheduled to begin her career at a transportation engineering firm in Irvine.
Instead, she will fly back to Honolulu today with her aunt, Cynthia Calverley — Colleen Takamori's sister.
"It's literally only been a few hours," Lianne said last night. "It's surreal. I'm just trying to get back to figure things out."
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.