Big Isle crash kills 5
VOLCANO, Hawai'i — Five people were killed and another was flown to an O'ahu hospital in critical condition following a head-on collision less than a mile from the main entrance of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.
Three people in a sport utility vehicle and two in a sedan died in the crash at 10 p.m. Friday near the park's Hilo boundary, according to park authorities. A third vehicle, traveling behind the sedan, also crashed.
Antony Gross, the 37-year-old driver of the third vehicle, suffered extensive leg injuries. He was taken by ambulance to Hilo Medical Center, and then flown to The Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu for surgery.
Dan Fisher, a passenger in the third vehicle, refused treatment at the scene. Last night, Fisher said the SUV's driver was speeding toward them on the curvy, dark road when the accident happened.
"I thought I was going to die," he said. "We saw the two lights coming, and we had a two-second window to react. He just came out of nowhere really fast, and just blew us away."
The accident occurred on Highway 11 by the 28-mile marker, when the SUV driven by a man with two female passengers traveling in the Ka'u direction slammed head-on into the sedan, whose occupants were believed to be tourists. The sedan spun out of control, and the SUV then crashed head-on into Gross' Chevrolet Malibu, which was following the sedan.
All three people in the Ka'u-bound SUV were killed. A man and a woman in the sedan, which was Hilo-bound, also were killed.
Battalion chief Darren Rosario said yesterday that all the victims, except Fisher, were extracted from the wreckage using heavy tools, sometimes called the "jaws of life."
The four dead at the scene were: two women, each about 30 years old; another woman, about 40 years old; and a man, about 30 years old, Rosario said. The driver of the SUV, a 55-year-old Volcano resident, was taken to the Hilo Medical Center, where he died.
Tourists often go into the park after dark to see the lava flow from the eruption of Kilauea.
Fisher and Gross are waiters at the Volcano House. They were going home, headed for Hilo, when the accident happened. Fisher's car was in the Volcano House parking lot, where its battery had died earlier that day. When Fisher got home, his wife burst into tears.
The Volcano House staff had gotten word of the crash and alerted her.
Yesterday, Fisher called in sick. He said he's dreading the day when he has to take the winding road back up to the Volcanoes National Park. "I'm scared to drive," he said.
The crash site was at a curve in the road about 100 yards inside the national park boundary. Pieces of the vehicles' consoles and fenders littered the ditch on the south side of the road, and hapu'u ferns and other vegetation had been smashed down for yards in and around the ditch.
Park ranger Mardie Lane said there were occasional showers in the Volcano area Friday evening, but she could not say what conditions were at the time the collision occurred. Lane said she had no information on what might have caused the crash.
"This is a very tragic event. We are now investigating and we are attempting to locate the next of kin so that they might be informed of it," Lane said.
"It certainly has taken all of us by surprise; it's very shocking," she said. "Our hearts really go out to the victims, to their family, to their friends."
The accident was one of the worst Big Island accidents in recent memory. On July 9, 1988, six people were killed on the Big Island when a pickup truck collided head-on with a station wagon on Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway near Kawaihae. That early-morning crash killed 43-year-old Patrick Oliberos, his three teenage sons, and his brother and sister-in-law, who were visiting from Honolulu. The family was headed out for a day of fishing at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel when the crash occurred. The driver of the pickup truck suffered head injuries.
Because Friday's accident happened on park property, the investigation into the cause is led by federal officials. Lane said the Hawai'i County Police Department's traffic enforcement unit assisted in the investigation. Rangers were helped also by the Kilauea Military Camp fire and ambulance service and the state Department of Transportation, she said.
Park authorities would not disclose information about the victims' towns, their ages or the makes and models of the vehicles involved.
Investigators would not say whether speed or alcohol were factors, or if the victims had been wearing seat belts.
Highway 11 was closed for five hours. Autopsies are pending. The investigation is continuing, authorities said.
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State's deadliest traffic accidents in the past 60 years:
• July 1969: Seven people died when a car ran a red light and broadsided a vehicle at Pu'uloa Road near Honolulu Airport.
• August 1971: Six died when a tractor-trailer lost its brakes, ran a red light and hit a station wagon in Kalihi.
• July 1988: Six died when a pickup collided head-on with a station wagon on Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway near Kawaihae on the Big Island.
• April 24, 2006: Four women were killed when the pickup they were riding to work in swerved to avoid an oncoming car and collided with a cement truck. The pickup, which was carrying 10 people, was heading southbound on Kunia Road near Anonui Street.
• January 2005: Four people were killed on the Big Island when a station wagon crossed the centerline on Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway and collided with a sedan.
• February 2004: Two speeding cars slammed into the back of a state-contracted truck, whose occupants were doing an early-morning check on the H-1 Freeway for debris. Three Schofield Barracks soldiers died in the crash, along with the passenger in the truck.
• March 2004: A sedan slid on a rain-slicked Volcano Highway and collided with a tour minibus near Glenwood on the Big Island, killing four people and injuring at least a dozen tourists. One of the victims of the crash was nine months pregnant.
• March 2003: Five people were killed in an early-morning crash on Kamehameha Highway on the outskirts of Hale'iwa. Police said speed played a role in the crash.
• December 2003: Four people died when a car crossed the centerline on Farrington Highway near Makaha and hit a sports utility vehicle head-on. The crash happened about 7 p.m.
• April 2000: A one-car crash on Hana in Kahului killed four people, all of whom were visitors. Maui police said their sports utility lost control, jumped a curb, hit a coconut tree and flipped over.
• January 1997: Four people died and fifth was critically injured in a two-car, head-on crash on Kaua'i's Kaumuali'i Highway.
• November 1995: Five people were killed and three injured when their speeding car hit a wall on Kalaniana'ole Highway in Kuli'ou'ou.
• January 1994: A van drove off a 40-foot embankment near Yokohama Bay and burst into flames, killing five people.
• June 1988: Five people died when a speeding sports sedan hit a tourists' van on Kalaniana'ole Highway in Makapu'u.
• July 1982: Five died when a speeding car rams another from behind, then veers into an oncoming car on Kuhio Road.
• November 1979: Five university students were killed in a head-on collision between a compact sedan and a pick-up truck on Kamehameha Highway between Helemano and Hale'iwa.
• July 1970: Five people are killed when a sedan crashed into a parked truck and a Jeep in front of a truck yard on Moloka'i.
• February 1967: Five people died when two cars collided head-on on Maui's Honoapi'ilani Highway near Olowalu.
• February 1959: Two cars collide on Kaua'i's Kaumuali'i Highway near Kekaha, killing five people.
• October 1945: Five people are killed when a car missed a curve and plunges over an embankment near Kohala on the Big Island.