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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hawaii kayakers say Kona fisherman died saving their lives

By Diana Leone
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Judith Marshall-Lewis

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The Kailua, Kona, fisherman who lost his life Sunday trying to save three kayakers in a freak "white squall" was "always the kind of guy who'd have to help someone," his wife said yesterday.

Judith Marshall-Lewis said her husband, Robert Dean Lewis, 57, stopped without hesitation to help kayakers struggling in sudden rough weather Sunday morning.

When the kayakers later visited Marshall-Lewis in her Kona Community Hospital room, they told her several boats passed them by before Lewis stopped to help and credited him with saving their lives, said Marshall-Lewis' nephew, Chris LaVergne.

Kayakers Mike Kiss, Jesse Shim and Troy Gardner, all of West Hawai'i, "said they didn't think they were going to make it," said LaVergne, who flew to Hawai'i from Houston on Monday to help his aunt. "These are experienced kayakers, physically fit and strong."

Marshall-Lewis in turn credits the kayakers with saving her life by pulling her ashore when she was thrown from the 26-foot Majek fishing boat as she and her husband tried to help them.

Marshall-Lewis and her husband had gone fishing about 5 a.m. that day, believing that a storm warning was for later in the day, she said yesterday from her home.

The couple was trolling without a catch shortly before 9 a.m., and were within a couple hundred yards of Honokohau Harbor when "all of a sudden it just came, a wind, unbelievable," Marshall-Lewis said. "It ripped the awning off our boat and started raining heavy, heavy rain. All of a sudden, it was almost like a whiteout."

The rough weather was the remnant of a winter storm that blew through the Islands over the weekend.

Lewis was trying to find the harbor entrance in "huge" waves when Marshall-Lewis saw a man on the rocky shore, she said.

"I said, 'The guy's in distress, the guy's in distress,' " Marshall-Lewis said. The man pointed offshore where two other men bobbed in the water next to their kayaks, unable to get back on their boats.

Lewis and Marshall-Lewis got one kayaker in the Majek when the engine stalled and waves started pushing the boat to shore, Marshall-Lewis said.

"My husband said, 'Let's get life preservers on,' " Marshall-Lewis said. "I called 911 and told them we were in distress about 100 yards east of the harbor entrance."

As they tried to get to shore, Marshall-Lewis was thrown from the boat. She had her life preserver on, but was unable to climb back in the boat.

Marshall-Lewis said she saw her husband hit his head while still in the Majek and believes that's the blow that led to his death, since he is a good swimmer.

Marshall-Lewis said she crawled up the lava rock cliff with the help of Kiss and Shim.

Lewis and Marshall-Lewis had lived on the Big Island for 3 1/2 years, since Lewis took a job in construction development with the Palamanui housing development in Kailua, Kona, Marshall-Lewis said.

Lewis would "go fishing anytime he could" for 'ahi and ono, and the tag on his boat read "FISH'N'FOOL," she said.

Lewis was pronounced dead on arrival at Kona Community Hospital, a Hawai'i Police Department report said.

In addition to his wife, Lewis is survived by Marshall-Lewis' sons, Ben and Hugh Marshall Jr.; two grandchildren; his parents, Wesley Lyn and LaVerne Jilek Lewis; sisters, Carolyn Kelly and Linda Keller; brothers, Berry Lewis, Wesley Lewis Jr. and Bradley Lewis; and numerous nephews and nieces.

Family and friends will gather at Lewis' home in Kailua, Kona, on Sunday for a celebration of life. Services will be held in Texas, Marshall-Lewis said. Memorial donations to the American Cancer Society are suggested.

A Hui Hou Crematory and Funeral Home in Kailua, Kona, is handling arrangements.

Reach Diana Leone at dleone@honoluluadvertiser.com.