KAILUA-KONA — No lives were lost in a three-vehicle crash Tuesday morning at the intersection of Kaupulehu Drive and Queen Kaahumanu Highway near the entrance to Four Seasons Resort, Hualalai.
The Hawaii Fire Department received a report at 8:53 a.m. that a DHX-Dependable Hawaiian Express truck hauling a Matson Ocean Services trailer was traveling southbound on the highway when a Jeep attempted a left-hand turn to the northbound lane from Kaupulehu Drive. The truck swerved to avoid the Jeep but was unable to avoid collision.
The crash sent the trailer fishtailing across the northbound lane of the highway, where it collided with a state Veterans Services SUV. The truck and trailer jackknifed, sliding across the pavement and coming to a stop on the mauka side of the highway.
A Hawaii Police Department press release said based on the initial investigation, neither alcohol nor gross negligence played roles in the crash.
Hawaii Island resident Adam Atwood passed the wreck before the first rescue unit arrived at 9:11 a.m. at the scene. He said at that point, Four Seasons security was directing traffic.
“There was a lot of debris spread all over the road,” Atwood recalled. “It was a pretty severe accident.”
Four people were injured in the crash, including 54-year-old Clyde Ono of Waimea, who was driving the tractor-trailer; a 62-year-old man driving the SUV; and 24-year-old Emily Hicks, who was a passenger in the Jeep. All three were transported by ambulance to North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea.
Capt. Eric Loyola with the fire department’s South Kohala station, who acted as commander at the scene, said all three suffered minor injuries. He added the split-second driving skills of the tractor-trailer driver, who self-extricated from the vehicle’s mangled cab, prevented a much worse situation.
The driver of the Jeep, 25-year-old Phillip Sloniker of Washington, was transported in serious condition via helicopter to Kona Community Hospital. Loyola said Sloniker suffered an open fracture to his leg.
Traffic stalled for hours into the afternoon as responders conducted cleanup efforts, rotating passage north and south in the makai lane of the highway. Both lanes of the highway reopened to regular traffic shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Two bulldozers from Isemoto Contracting Co. Ltd.’s fleet working in the Hualalai area responded to help tip the Matson container upright and haul it away.
A representative of DHX on site said he had no manifest detailing the contents of the container, but added it contained only general cargo and no material presenting any danger to responders or passing motorists.
Atwood, who drives the highway every workday as part of his commute, said he’d like to see a channelized intersection at the spot of the crash with “some sort of control.”
He thinks the best thing the state Department of Transportation could do is widen the highway to four lanes and separate it with a divider from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole all the way to Queens’ MarketPlace in Waikoloa.
“I have seen too many really, really bad accidents (at that intersection) to even count,” Atwood said. “That entire stretch between the airport and Kiholo Bay where I turn off, I’ve been driving that for 25 years and I can’t count how many fatal (crashes) I’ve seen on that stretch of highway. It’s really unbelievable.”
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