In the past year, Hawaii Island’s police and fire departments have suffered the tragic and senseless loss of one of their own.
Puna Patrol Officer Bronson Kaliloa, 46, died early July 18, 2018, hours after being shot by a fugitive during a traffic stop along Highway 11 in Mountain View.
And Fire Capt. David Mahon, 49, was riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle to work in East Hawaii May 22 when a 21-year-old driver of a sport-utility vehicle allegedly sped, overtook several vehicles in a no-passing zone, and slammed head-on into Mahon near mile marker 14 on Highway 190 in North Kona. Mahon was wearing a helmet and safety gear when the collision occurred.
The day Kaliloa died, Hawaii Police Chief Paul Ferreira said it was “the worst day of my 36-year career.”
He described Kaliloa, a 10-year police veteran as “a loving husband to a wife of 23 years, a father to three children, two sons and a daughter” and “a loving son to his parents, who also reside on Hawaii Island.”
Kaliloa was twice named East Hawaii Officer of the Month, in October 2012 and April 2014, and Puna Patrol Officer of the Year for 2014.
More than a thousand people, including hundreds of police officers and first responders from Hawaii and beyond, attended Kaliloa’s Aug. 4, 2018, memorial service at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.
“I’m certain there won’t be a day that goes by that we won’t remember how Bronson touched our lives, all of us,” Ferreira told those in attendance. “But we need to let it happen and know that we will get through this. Sure, pain will be there, but we can conquer it by the fact that Bronson will always be with us in our hearts.”
Maj. Samuel Jelsma, the Puna District commander, said Kaliloa “always carried himself as a professional, being above reproach, not only on the job but in his personal life, as well.”
After Kaliloa was named Puna Patrol Officer of the Year, he was offered a six-month tour of duty in the department’s Special Enforcement Unit — a plainclothes, Monday through Friday assignment.
“Most officers would jump at this opportunity if it were offered. But Bronson turned it down, not only once, twice,” Jelsma said. “… Bronson truly loved being in uniform, the camaraderie of his fellow beat partners … even in a busy district such as Puna.”
Police mounted a massive manhunt for Kaliloa’s killer, Justin Waiki, who refused to turn himself in to authorities. The department’s Special Response Team tracked Waiki to South Point Road in Ka‘u. A shootout there on July 20, 2018, resulted in Waiki’s death and gunshot injuries to Sgt. Bryan Tina, who has since recovered.
Jamin Hiebert, Kaliloa’s nephew, delivered Kaliloa’s eulogy and thanked Tina for his heroic actions.
“There is nothing I can say more eloquent than the wounds of honor that he will carry the rest of his life,” Hiebert said.
Hiebert said his uncle “found a purpose through a promise” which led him to become a police officer as well as an adoptive parent to three children with wife Casey.
“The promise is when we say, ‘I will go on as long as there is one more person that needs to be loved,’” he said. “It’s the promise that says, ‘When you call for backup, I will come.’ And the flip side that says, ‘When I’m hurting, I will call for backup and wait for you to come, and we’ll go through it together.’ … It’s the promise of God that ‘I will raise you up, if you’re willing to be that person.’ It’s the promise of God that says, ‘I will be a father to the fatherless’ — with the purpose to the promise, the promises that Uncle Bronson kept. The promises that God, even now, is keeping.”
Sgt. Chris Correia was the Puna watch supervisor the night Kaliloa was killed. Correia, who has since assumed command of East Hawaii’s Traffic Enforcement Unit, said last month, “There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of Bronson.”
“There’s a makeshift memorial on the side of the road. I have to pass that every day when I go to work and when I come home from work,” h said. “One thing about Bronson is, he really was the best of us. I know that sounds cliché, but he really was the best of us — great guy. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would say anything bad about the guy. He was just a great officer, humble guy, just the best of us.”
Unlike Kaliloa, Mahon wasn’t killed in the line of duty, but his death was equally untimely and shocked and saddened the Big Island’s first responder community.
Mahon, a Kailua-Kona resident and 18-year fire department veteran who had recently been promoted to a fire captain position in Hilo, also was given a hero’s farewell.
Hundreds crowded the streets of Kailua-Kona and packed a ballroom at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay to pay their respect to Mahon on June 1. Those who spoke during Mahon’s celebration of life service praised him as an exceptional Hawaii Fire Department rescue specialist, a dedicated family man, and a loving father to his son, Dylan.
Fire Chief Darren Rosario recalled Mahon as “a remarkable man.”
“To the family, Dylan, I’d like to thank you folks for allowing your son, your father, your love to be a part of our department for the last 18 years,” he said.
Among the high-profile incidents Mahon was involved in were the rescue of 13 people amid flash flooding at Anna Ranch in November and the recovery of the body of a 13-year-old boy who drowned after jumping off the rocks at Hapuna Beach State Park in 2014.
The latter incident, which involved searching underwater caves using a rope-tug system, earned Mahon and his crew a Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Meritorious Service Above and Beyond The Call of Duty Award. It also resulted in the securing of rescue equipment that allowed divers to communicate with crew above water.
Christopher Helmlinger, the driver of the SUV, is charged with manslaughter and negligent homicide in connection with Mahon’s death. The case is in the court system, and he can only be convicted of one of the charges.
Summing up the thoughts of those who knew Mahon, Rosario described him as “a great man who was taken way too soon and too young.”