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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006

Road-rage suspect to appear in court

Advertiser Staff


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HILO, Hawai'i Vernon E. Costa is expected to make his first court appearance today on murder charges related to a fatal car crash Sunday that killed two Hilo women.

Police also are investigating whether Costa, before his arrest Monday, was severely beaten by a man who knew one of the victims.

A 38-year-old man from Kailua, Kona, was arrested that night as a suspect in the alleged assault, but he was released Tuesday while police look into the incident.

Lt. Randall Medeiros of the Hawai'i County Police Department would not say whether the assault suspect is related to one of the victims, or which victim the man knew.

As a result of the alleged beating, Costa underwent emergency surgery at Hilo Medical Center for injuries to his face and body, Medeiros said. He was still under medical care yesterday, but Medeiros would not say whether he was at the hospital or in jail, citing "security reasons."

Killed in the wreck on Mamalahoa Highway near mile-marker 16 were Casey Ann Swain, 35, and Pua Santa-Isabel, 26, both of Hilo. A 19-year-old woman who was Costa's former girlfriend survived the crash.

Police yesterday charged Costa with first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, two drug charges and six traffic charges, including driving while his license was revoked. He was being held in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Police said the crash happened around 12:15 a.m. Sunday after Costa allegedly drove a silver 1998 Dodge Dakota pickup truck into the rear of a 1987 Honda sedan carrying the three women, forcing their car off the road. One of the women had called police during the chase to report they were being terrorized by another motorist.

Police found the dead women outside the crushed sedan, and a passer-by took the third woman to North Hawai'i Community Hospital, where she was treated for head injuries and released.

Costa is believed to have abandoned the truck at the crash scene. While police searched for him Monday in Eden Roc in upper Puna, an individual reported seeing Costa run into nearby brush. A short while later, the suspect was found crouching near a fallen tree, his face obviously injured from the beating, police said.

Meanwhile, police are trying to find the person who took the 19-year-old survivor to the hospital.

Police ask anyone with information to call Detective Mark Haggerty at (808) 326-4646, ext. 277; the nonemergency telephone number at (808) 935-3311; or Crime Stoppers at (808) 961-8300 in Hilo or (808) 329-8181 in Kona.