Kamakana Villagers mourn loss of neighbor hit on highway

  • The spot of Wednesday evening’s pedestrian fatality is marked on Ane Keohokalole Highway. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • The spot of Wednesday evening's pedestrian fatality is marked on Ane Keohokalole Higway. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Gil Valencia talks about his friend who was the victim of a pedestrian fatality Wednesday evening on Ane Keohokalole Highway. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Residents at Kamakana Village were sad to learn the pedestrian killed in a Wednesday crash on Ane Keohokalole Highway was a fellow neighbor.

On Thursday morning, a handful of people sat outside across the street from the housing complex talking about the events of the night before — asking those passing by if they heard the news about their neighbor.

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“We’re all family,” said Kamakana Village resident Michele Austin.

Around 6:13 p.m. Wednesday, Hawaii Island police responded to the intersection of Ane Keohokalole Highway and Manawalea Street. After arriving on scene, they learned a 36-year-old Kailua-Kona man was traveling south in a 2007 Toyota pickup truck when he was involved in a collision with a 70-year-old man who was walking within the road’s southbound lane.

The pedestrian suffered critical injuries and was taken to Kona Community Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 6:47 p.m.

While residents identified the victim, police have yet to release the man’s name pending notification of family. West Hawaii Today’s policy is not to publish names of victims unless released by authorities or with the permission of relatives.

Austin said police were still out at the scene when she was getting home from work around 9 p.m. Wednesday. She was sad to learn the identity of the victim.

“I went up to my room and cried and said a little prayer for him,” Austin said.

Austin described the 70-year-old as smart and intelligent. She speculated he must have fallen down while crossing the road, adding the victim was unsteady on his feet and walked with a cane.

“I’ll miss him,” she said. “He’ll be missed.”

On Thursday, Kamakana Village residents speculated how the accident could’ve happened. The resident was known walk to the store if he was unable to get a ride.

“I don’t understand how that truck hit him if it was dusk time,” said Gil Valencia.

Valencia had been friends with the victim for 10 years. He had been living with the 70-year-old at the apartment complex. He learned about his friend’s death when he saw his hat in the roadway.

“I was staying with him. Made sure he ate, kicked back, watched movies together, all-around pal,” Valencia said.

The pair met at Hale Halawai while they were living on the streets. Originally from Connecticut, the victim was an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, Valencia recalled.

“He was a righteous dude,” he added.

Valencia and Austin think the highway is dangerous and more can be done to make that area safe. The posted speed limit in the area is 35 mph.

“People do drive really fast on the highway,” Austin said.

With a bus stop in that area, Valencia thinks it would make sense to have a crosswalk.

Hawaii Police don’t think speed or alcohol were factors in the crash. An autopsy has been ordered to determine the exact cause of death. The Traffic Enforcement Unit has initiated a negligent homicide investigation. Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is encouraged to call Officer Justin Hooser at 326-4646 ext. 229.

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Those who prefer anonymity can also call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.

This is the 29th traffic fatality on a public Big Island road this year compared to 31 at this time last year.