Fatal crash claims life of Hawaii Fire Department veteran

  • Hawaii County Fire Department Equipment Operator David Mahon talks about underwater communication methods used before receiving new underwater to surface communication devices donated by the IRONMAN Foundation through the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation with Diana Bertsch and Laura Mallery-Sayre listening. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)
  • Traffic is turned around at the Makalei Fire Station Wednesday morning. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A Hawaii Fire Department veteran was killed in a three-vehicle crash Wednesday morning on Mamalahoa Highway near the North Kona-South Kohala boundary.

Fire Chief Darren Rosario confirmed to West Hawaii Today the man had an 18-year career with the department. The West Hawaii resident had recently been promoted to a fire captain position in East Hawaii, and was headed to work at the time of the fatal collision.

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“A great man was taken way too soon and too young,” Rosario said Wednesday afternoon, referring to the veteran firefighter as having “always been a great asset to our department.”

Police Wednesday evening identified the victim as 49-year-old David Alan Mahon, of Kailua-Kona.

“At this time, we’re in heavy mourning and our hearts and prayers continue to be with his family at this time,” the fire chief said.

The fire captain was operating a purple 2016 Harley Davidson motorcycle and headed Waimea bound on Mamalahoa Highway, also known as Highway 190, when he collided with a Kona-bound 2006 Honda Pilot SUV near mile marker 14 around 6:35 a.m. about 0.2 miles south of the highway’s intersection with Daniel K. Inouye Highway, Hawaii Police and Fire officials said.

Police said the Honda Pilot, operated by a 21-year-old Waimea man, was overtaking several southbound vehicles in a no-passing zone when it collided with the motorcycle. A third-vehicle, a 2014 white Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by a 49-year-old Waimea man, was also involved in the wreck.

Neither the 49-year-old man nor 21-year-old man were injured in the collision. Mahon was officially pronounced dead at Kona Community Hospital at 2:37 p.m.

The 21-year-old, however, is in police custody after being arrested on suspicion of negligent homicide and several other offenses in connection with the deadly crash. He is currently being held at the Kona police cellblock.

The crash closed for hours Mamalahoa Highway between Waikoloa Road in South Kohala and Makalei Fire Station in North Kona as police investigated the scene before the roadway could be cleared. The road, one of two connectors between Kona and Waimea, reopened around 3 p.m.

News of the death of the Hawaii Fire Department fire captain spread quickly.

At the request of Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who is married to a firefighter, the County Council held a moment of silence to honor the victim at the start of Wednesday’s meeting on the budget in Hilo.

Kierkiewicz, somberly making the announcement, declined to name the firefighter at the time and said she couldn’t share more details.

Mayor Harry Kim was at the council meeting, sitting alongside Rosario, who he said confirmed what the mayor had just heard.

“I know what I felt, total numbness, emptiness,” Kim said Wednesday afternoon. “And looking at him (Rosario), and knowing he feels the same, I think we both expressed the same feeling in regards to such a deep, hollow feeling of losing a friend.”

Kim, whose own son, Garrett, is a battalion chief in the fire department, said the unexpected loss hits hard, especially given that the tragedy occurred outside the job.

“I hate to say it, but you accept that kind of thing happening,” Kim explained, noting that first responders realize the risks the job entails. “But this kind of thing, this is different. How useless a situation to die like that.”

In the wake of the crash, support has been pouring in for the fire department, Rosario said.

“We’re very much grateful and appreciate all the phone calls of support and empathy to the department, and we just ask that everyone keep his family in their prayers as they try to process through this tragedy themselves,” he said.

The department is also processing the loss. Rosario said “it definitely has hit our department extremely hard.”

“The fire department is not just an occupation we do become family real quick so today we lost a family member,” he said. “We don’t treat each other as coworkers, we treat each other as brother and sister.”

When asked how the community can help, Rosario asked for prayers for the man’s family and to be careful on Big Island roads. He said it was too early to say what the department plans to do to help or honor the man.

“All we ask is for everyone to follow the rules of the road and drive safely,” he said.

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Police ask anyone who may have witnessed the accident to contact Officer Jason Foxworthy at 326-4646, ext. 229. Those who prefer to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.

This is the eighth traffic fatality this year compared to 11 at this time last year.

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