Scientist killed, entertainer injured in crash

  • ROGER VARGAS
  • RICKY ALANIZ

A two-vehicle head-on collision late Tuesday afternoon on Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road, killed a highly regarded scientist and critically injured a well-known local musician.

A police log identified the man who died as 71-year-old Roger Vargas of Waimea, a research entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Basin in Hilo.

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The same log identified the injured man as 51-year-old Ricky Alaniz of Hilo, a singer-guitarist and member of the band Mokuleo. He’s also the patriarch of a musical family whose son, Star, is the lead singer and guitarist in The Steppas, a popular reggae band.

Officers responding to a 4:18 p.m. call determined a westbound 2010 Mazda sedan driven by Vargas crossed the center line of the highway between the 25- and 26-mile markers and collided head on into an eastbound 2018 Nissan pickup truck driven by Alaniz.

Vargas was taken by ambulance to Hilo Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 5:48 p.m.

A written Hawaii Fire Department statement said Alaniz was in critical condition when taken by helicopter to Hilo Medical Center. According to a social media post by a family member, he remains in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Police described his condition as “stable.”

Both drivers were trapped within their vehicles, and emergency responders extricated them with the Jaws of Life.

Saddle Road was closed in both directions for about four hours as police investigated the crash.

News that Alaniz, who plays music in several West Hawaii venues and the Hilo Burger Joint, was injured in the wreck spread quickly via social media, with numerous people, including fellow entertainers Bruddah Waltah Aipolani, Ku‘ehu Mauga and Jaz Yglesias, sending thoughts and prayers to Alaniz and his family.

Vargas, according to the PBARC website, was an internationally renowned expert in biological control of fruit flies, and from 2002-10 he coordinated a national fruit fly management program that garnered seven awards for excellence.

Vargas earned his doctorate in 1979 from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He published more than 250 research papers, and in 2010 was elected president of the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.

Police say both drivers were wearing seat belts, and it’s unknown at this time if speed was a factor in this crash.

An autopsy was ordered to determine the exact cause of death.

Anyone who witnessed the crash is asked to call Officer Clarence Acob at 961-2329. Those who prefer anonymity can call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.

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Vargas’ death is the 16th official traffic fatality this year compared with 20 at this time last year.

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