KAILUA-KONA — David Mahon had always dreamed of being a firefighter.
“Even when he lit the curtains on fire when he was like 8,” Mahon’s mother, Chris Anderson, remembered fondly Thursday morning, a day after her 49-year-old son was tragically killed in a three-vehicle crash on Mamalahoa Highway. “He always, always wanted to be a fireman.”
And a fireman he became, then a fire rescue specialist followed by an equipment operator and finally captain during an 18-year career with the Hawaii Fire Department.
“He was the consummate professional,” Anderson said. “He loved what he was doing.”
But his most important job was being a father to his son, Dylan.
“His 10-year-old son, he loved him,” Anderson said, noting the youngster is taking the loss of his father hard. “He was such an active father, and his son adored him, absolutely adored him to his core. I was so proud of that with David. He was just teaching him surfing and bodyboarding and they were going to go to Australia, and see the new movie (John Wick).”
“It’s just all gone,” she continued.
Mahon died Wednesday following the 6:35 a.m. crash near mile marker 14 on Mamalahoa Highway, also known as Highway 190.
He was headed to work in East Hawaii, cruising on his purple Harley Davidson and headed Waimea-bound when, police say, a Kona-bound white Honda Pilot driven by 21-year-old Christopher Raymond Helmlinger entered Mahon’s lane. Mahon, who was wearing a helmet and safety gear, collided head-on with the Honda.
Police say Helmlinger was overtaking several southbound vehicles in a no-passing zone at the time of the crash. A third vehicle, a white Jeep Grand Cherokee, was also involved in the wreck. Neither Helmlinger nor the driver of the Jeep required medical attention.
Helmlinger, a Waimea resident, was arrested just after the crash on suspicion of manslaughter, excessive speeding of more than 81 mph, reckless driving and inattention to driving, according to police logs.
He had yet to be charged with any of the offenses as of press time Thursday.
Mahon, who was raised in California and Washington state, the latter of which he spent a couple years in forest firefighting, began his career with the Hawaii Fire Department on July 16, 2001. He started as a firefighter in North Kohala before transferring to the Kailua Fire Station in North Kona in May 2004. There, he honed his skills, becoming a fire rescue specialist in 2006.
In 2010, he was promoted to fire equipment operator and assigned to the Hawaiian Ocean View Estates (HOVE) Fire Station in Ka’u. Two years later, he transferred to the Waiakea Fire Station where he remained for a few months before heading back to the Kailua Fire Station in August.
He spent the next 6.5 years in Kailua-Kona responding to calls for help day and night.
Among the high-profile incidents he was involved in were the rescue of 13 people amid flash flooding at Anna Ranch in November, the search for Debby Wiley, a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease who is still missing after disappearing on Mother’s Day 2018; and the recovery of the body of an 13-year-old boy who drowned after jumping off the rocks at Hapuna State Beach Park in 2014.
“He was a really, really good guy. I appreciated his generosity. I loved the fact that he would do anything for anybody that was a friend or family of his,” said Aaron Mitchell, a paramedic currently assigned to the Keauhou Fire Station who worked with Mahon from around 2013-17 at the Kailua Fire Station. “I’m really going to miss him.”
It was his and his fellow rescuers’ efforts amid the 2014 recovery effort searching underwater caves using a rope-tug system that earned them a coveted Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Meritorious Service Above and Beyond The Call of Duty Award in September 2015, said Laura Mallery-Sayre, who co-founded the organization with her husband, Frank Sayre, after the death of their son, Danny, in North Kohala in 1997.
“Very humble, unassuming, strong leader — that’s how I would describe him,” Mallery-Sayre said Thursday of the man she’d known for about a decade who always gave her a big “bear hug” when she’d come down to the Kailua Fire Station.
Aside from being an awardee, Mahon was the catalyst to the foundation donating to the fire department underwater to surface communication devices with help from the Ironman Foundation in 2016.
“After that recovery he came to us and said we really need a better system and this is just so dangerous,” said Mallery-Sayre, explaining how rescue specialists used a rope tug system to communicate with their counterparts above water while searching dangerous, tight areas dozens of feet below.
He didn’t just make the request, however. He actually organized the whole process, even conducting training for rescue specialists, she said.
“He implemented it and put it in place,” Mallery-Sayre said. “Now our rescue divers, under his direction, have this top-of-the-line technology to do their dives to make it safer and more efficient for them to rescue or recover someone.”
Mahon remained at Kailua Fire Rescue Station until receiving a promotion to fire captain on Feb. 1. He was headed to work at his new station, the Hilo Central Fire Station, at the time of his death.
Fire Chief Darren Rosario, who described the 18-year veteran as having “always been a great asset to our department” on Wednesday, said Thursday the department is ready to help in any way at the family’s request. Right now, they’re giving the family time to grieve.
The HFD ohana is also in mourning, he said. The department’s peer-to-peer Critical Incident Stress Management Team has been activated to “help our brothers and sisters in the department.”
Anderson said Mahon’s sister and father were arriving on island Thursday. Plans are being made to celebrate Mahon’s life. Details have yet to be set, but it will likely be a scattering of ashes in the waters off Kona at a later date that would involve the community. Those wanting to keep informed should email Anderson at email@example.com.
Mallery-Sayre said the career civil servant will be honored at this year’s Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Awards Dinner and Fundraiser on Aug. 31 at Fairmont Orchid. For info and tickets, visit www.danielsayrefoundation.org.
Mahon is survived by mother, Chris Anderson, of Kona; father, Donal Mahon, of California; sister, Teresa and her husband, Scott, of New Hampshire; son, Dylan; two nephews; uncles; cousins; and numerous friends.
A crowd-sourcing page is in the process of being created to assist the family with costs during this time, Mitchell said. West Hawaii Today will provide details when they are available.
Police ask anyone who may have witnessed the crash 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.