Pedestrian killed; Puna traffic snarled for hours

  • Olaa Road in Puna. ( Courtesy photo/ Tiffany Edwards Hunt

  • Road 8, also known as Moho Road. Courtesy photo/Bri Simonian

  • Highway 11 in Kurtistown. ( Courtesy photo/Sheina Aki

  • Photo by Tiffany Edwards Hunt Detoured Hilo-bound traffic is backed up on Road 8, also known as Moho Road, in Hawaiian Acres after a fatal collision Thursday morning closed Highway 130 near the Keaau Transfer Station.

The pedestrian killed during rush-hour traffic Thursday morning on Highway 130 near the Keaau Transfer Station was struck by at least three vehicles, police said.

Officers say the man, whose identity hadn’t been released by police as of Thursday evening, was standing in the Hilo-bound inner lane of the highway when he was hit repeatedly by northbound vehicles at about 6 a.m.

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The man was unresponsive at the scene and pronounced dead at Hilo Medical Center at 8:46 a.m.

According to police, the pedestrian was struck in succession by at least three vehicles, including a 2005 Chevrolet sport-utility vehicle driven by a 66-year-old Keaau woman, a 2001 Dodge Ram pickup truck driven by a 30-year-old Pahoa man, and a 2006 Toyota pickup truck driven by a 69-year-old Pahoa man.

None of the drivers were injured.

The incident occurred during peak morning traffic, with thousands commuting from Puna to Hilo for work and school finding themselves in gridlock on all possible routes.

Highway 130 was closed for about three hours while police investigated the scene.

“Puna only has one main artery, Route 130, and there are secondary roads that can be used to go around the portion that is closed. However, they are secondary roads,” said Capt. John Briski, commander of Hawaii Police Department’s Puna Patrol Division. “That’s just the facts. That’s all we have. That’s why (the accident investigation scene) was cleared up as quickly as possible, to allow traffic to continue on 130.”

Those secondary routes, including Ainaloa Boulevard to Road 8 in Hawaiian Acres and Pohaku Drive to 40th Avenue in Orchidland Estates, which goes to Olaa Road — both routes going to Highway 11 in the Kurtistown and Mountain View area — were jammed with traffic. Highway 11 also was struck with gridlock after drivers were re-routed from Highway 130.

Even police officers reporting for duty were affected, including Sgt. Jason Grouns of the Administrative Services Section in Hilo. Grouns, a Puna resident, said he was in traffic for “close to four hours” before finally reporting to work.

“On a typical weekday, I’ve got to take my son to school, so we left at about 6:30,” Grouns said. “So at just about Kaloli Drive, we ran into just bumper-to-bumper traffic. And at that point, there just wasn’t anywhere for me to turn around. With the flow of everything, I figured there’s got to be an accident or something going on. I was thankful that we left a little bit early, thinking if we’ve got to wait, OK, we’ve got some time.

“We got almost to Shower Drive, creeping along. I had a couple of friends who called me. One of them mentioned that his brother had to turn around and had gone up Pohaku for the detour, but they were stuck up there, bumper to bumper. At Shower, they asked us to turn around, so we turned around, and I figured if they were stuck on Pohaku (Drive), I’m going to go back to Ainaloa (Boulevard) and see if we could go out that way. But when we got up there, it was no better.”

Kehaulani La‘a of Mountain View said she heard about the Highway 130 closure hours before leaving home for Hilo.

“I thought nothing of it, thinking I was good to go when I left … Fern Forest subdivision — until I got to Dimple Cheek Cafe in Mountain View,” La‘a said in an email. “Ugh! The traffic was horrendous! I didn’t relate it to the accident in Keaau because we’re talking Mountain View for crying out loud! People were using the shoulder as a lane while many others just got out of line and turned around heading back towards Volcano.

“… The situation frightened me because I was thinking if there were a natural disaster or something.”

Briski said it behooves Puna residents to familiarize themselves with the alternate routes to Hilo on Puna’s secondary roads sometime when there’s no traffic accidents and no rush.

“It’s amazing how many people called who had no idea how to use the secondary routes that are available to them,” Briski said.

The death is the fifth traffic fatality on the Big Island this year, compared to two at this time last year. According to police, neither speed nor alcohol are suspected as factors.

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Potential witnesses or anyone who may have seen other involved vehicles or drivers are asked to call the Hilo Traffic Enforcement Unit at 961-2339 or Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.