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Construction intersections scene of several accidents

October 28, 2017 - 12:05am

KAILUA-KONA — Police are still investigating a crash on Queen Kaahumanu Highway that left Kailua-Kona cyclist James Sakai dead Thursday.

The cycling community and police don’t necessarily attribute the fatal crash to the ongoing construction that’s left the highway congested and confusing at times to maneuver through.

“Even as motorists it can be frustrating,” said Tina Clothier, executive director for the Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii, also known as PATH. “It was an incredible set of unfortunate circumstances that caused that crash.”

Sakai, 61, was riding his bike south when the collision occurred with a pickup truck. The driver was traveling north and had attempted to turn at the airport. Hawaii Police Maj. Robert Wagner said the driver, 41, of Kapaau, was flagged through the intersection by a motorist traveling in the opposite direction.

Police say the truck driver had completed his left turn when the collision occurred. Wagner said Sakai ended up crashing into the bed area of the pickup truck.

The crash is currently under investigation. Wagner said police have not determined who was at fault.

It marked the 28th overall traffic fatality this year compared with 25 at this time last year, according to police.

Franz Weber, bike and safety instructor for PATH and volunteer communication director for Ironman, said he was sad to hear about the crash on the highway.

“Being that close to cars is challenging,” Weber said.

Weber said everyone who travels on a highway in a construction zone needs to realize that visibility and speed aren’t the same – everything is changing.

“You can’t ride at the same speed,” Weber said. “Just because you have a right of way doesn’t mean it’s safe.”

Last week, Weber said he hit a delineator while riding out by Honokohau Harbor. He admitted it was his fault and that he wasn’t paying attention.

Weber doesn’t think the construction company is doing anything wrong. They’re doing as much as they can, he said.

Weber added the highway is great for cycling.

“Queen K is like a the paradise for cycling because it has the wide shoulders,” he said.

Weber said PATH is pushing to get separated lanes for bicyclists and pedestrians.

“The Big Island is becoming a mecca for cyclists,” he said. “It could be a great thing to do more for our bike infrastructure here.”

Clothier said traveling in construction is an ever-changing situation.

“Everyone has to be hyper-aware, that includes cyclists and motorists,” she said.

Clothier also addressed PATH’s hope is to get separated lanes for cyclists and pedestrians on Queen K.

“Our goal is to get as many bike facilities has possible,” she said.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been 15 crashes at or near the airport intersection. Many of the collisions were fender benders. Those figures include all accidents involving cars, and only one cyclist and one moped were involved.

On Oct. 9, a crash between a motorist and cyclist nearly mirrors the incident on Thursday. However, the cyclist in the October crash suffered only minor injuries.

There were 14 crashes at Kealakehe Parkway by Honokohau Harbor since the beginning of the year. That is also the same location where Ironman professional Tim Don was in a collision with a vehicle days before the Ironman World Championship.

The crash took Don out of the race.

The Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project broke ground in September 2015 at a cost of $90 million. The project was delayed after the discovery of historical sites and burial grounds. Cost has also grown to $105 million.

The project is slated to be complete in August 2018.

Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the incident or has any information relating to the incident to please call Officer Kimo Keliipaakaua at 326-4646 ext. 229, or for those who want to remain anonymous contact Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.

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