Scores come out to celebrate the life of Hawaii Fire Department veteran David Mahon

  • Esther Milliken hugs a loved one. (Marc Wettermann / Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Hundreds gathered at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay on Saturday to pay final respects to a fire captain who perished in a three-vehicle accident last week. (Marc Wettermann / Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • David Mahon's son, Dylan, stands in front of the crowded ballroom as he's presented a firefighting helmet on behalf of the Hawaii County Fire Department by Fire Chief Darren Rosario, right.
  • David Mahon's lifelong friend, Kent Zapata, pauses while he delivers a speech on his memories of David Mahon. (Marc Wettermann / Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • David Mahon's sister, Teresa, reflects on her memories with her brother. (Marc Wettermann / Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Chris Anderson hugs a well-wisher. (Marc Wettermann / Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Hundreds gathered along side the streets of Kailua-Kona and inside a ballroom at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay on Saturday to pay final respects to a fire captain who perished in a three-vehicle accident last week.

David Mahon was remembered as a dedicated professional who excelled as a Hawaii Fire Department rescue specialist, a loving father and family man, a quick-witted, loyal friend, who could make a crowd laugh — a force of energy, the life of the party.

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He lived a remarkable life that should be celebrated, loved ones said, though it was snatched too soon. Mahon was 49.

“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,” Fire Chief Darren Rosario told the family during the celebration of life service. “He was a remarkable man.”

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 an 13-year-old boy who drowned after jumping off the rocks at Hapuna State Beach Park in 2014.

It was that effort searching underwater caves using a rope-tug system that earned him and his crew a Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Meritorious Service Above and Beyond The Call of Duty Award. But it also spurred Mahon to improve rescue equipment by securing devices that allowed divers to communicate directly with crew above water.

“Be proud of him,” Rosario said. “I know right now is a very difficult time.”

But for as serious as his profession was, Mahon packed a fun-loving, carefree personality. He traveled widely and relished sports as much as he did making people laugh.

“You can see it here,” Mahon’s lifelong friend, Kent Zapata, said looking over the hundreds of people and firefighters dressed in uniform mingling and sharing stories in the ballroom during the celebration. “He had this connection, this magnetism.”

As teenagers, it was Mahon who helped Zapata saw the roof off a car to make it a convertible. It was Mahon who convinced Zapata to join a forest fighting crew as teenagers in Washington state. It was Mahon by his side the first time they went to — and were booted from — a bar, and it was the firefighter who stood beside Zapata as best man to his wedding.

“He was passionate about everything,” Zapata said. “It’s so heartwarming to think he was loved. It’s comforting, it’s amazing, it’s helpful.”

Mahon died May 22 following a 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, who is charged with manslaughter, 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.

Before the ceremony began, residents lined Alii Drive, waved and held signs as fire department personnel drove in procession slowly from the Kailua-Kona station down the oceanfront strip to Keauhou.

Pat Kaaihue was one of those bystanders. He stopped near Living Stones Church and flashed the shaka to the cars and trucks rolling quietly by.

“We have to pay our respects to them, they work so hard,” he said on the reason he came out.

“It’s just touching,” he reflected after the procession passed. “Crazy, very humbling … I’m sorry for the family. Prayers are with them, he was a good guy.”

Inside the ballroom, the ceremony started with a slideshow of pictures of Mahon living life to the fullest with his friends and family.

It was a reminder, family said, that Mahon’s life should be celebrated despite their feelings of despair.

“Nobody in our family has been so celebrated,” Mahon’s mother, Chris Anderson, told the gathering, which concluded with a scattering of ashes off Lyman’s Point in the evening. “This has been overwhelming and I can tell you that as much as my grief and my heart is broken, there is so much love that I have received from the community and from the fire department that it, too, is just as equally strong. And I thank everyone for that.

“Today I stand tall, proud because my son, David Allen Mahon, is a hero,” she said. “He devoted his life to fire and rescue.”

Mahon is survived by mother, Anderson, of Kona; father, Donal Mahon, of California; sister, Teresa and her husband, Scott, of New Hampshire; son, Dylan; partner, Esther Milliken; two nephews; uncles; cousins; and numerous friends.

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“He was a good guy, he was happy, you could always count on him,” friend Danny DeLaTorre, said. “I look at his son, and I want his son to know, and I’m sure he knows, what kind of dad he had. His dad was a good man and he was loved.”

“Freakin’ Dave,” his sister, Teresa, teary eyed, said. “What I wouldn’t give to have you back.”

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