Wrongful death suit filed in fiery fatal traffic crash

  • Photo courtesy of Remington L. Uemura Hawaii County firefighters work to extinguish a burning propane tanker truck Sept. 2, 2017, on Highway 19 in Honomu.

The mother of a 21-year-old Waimea woman killed Sept. 2, 2017, in a fiery traffic collision between a sport-utility vehicle and a Hawaii Gas propane tanker in Honomu has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the victim’s companion, who was driving the SUV.

The civil suit was filed Aug. 9 in Hilo Circuit Court by Honolulu attorneys Woody Soldner, Nicole Kalakau and Rafael Renteria on behalf of Kelsie De Rego, mother of the victim, Sarah Akiona. De Rego also is filing as representative of Akiona’s estate and “next friend” of Akiona’s daughter, a minor who is identified only by her initials.

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Named as defendants are Kodi-Dean Springer and numerous “Doe” entities.

According to police, Springer, then 23 and from Waimea, was driving a 2004 Honda Pilot SUV northbound on Highway 19 near Honomu Transfer Station Road when he crossed the center line and collided head-on with the southbound Peterbilt tanker truck.

Akiona, who was in the front passenger seat, died at the scene from head injuries. Neither Springer nor the then-3-year-old girl, who was secured in a child-restraint seat in the rear of the SUV, were injured.

The tanker driver, a then-54-year-old Hilo man whom police didn’t identify, was able to get out of the truck, which overturned, leaked liquid propane from its tank and ignited. He was taken to Hilo Medical Center in stable condition for treatment of apparent head injuries.

According to a police document, Springer told officers the tanker crossed into his lane as he entered a curve. The document stated Springer said he swerved left in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid a collision.

According to the Hawaii Fire Department, the tanker was carrying about 1,750 gallons of liquid propane. Because of the large volume of the highly flammable fuel, it was decided by firefighters and Hawaii Gas that the safest course of action was to allow the propane to burn. Firefighters remained on scene for almost 40 hours, cooling the tanker by continuously spraying it with water.

The highway was closed to traffic for almost two days as the propane burned off.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, attorneys’ fees and court costs, plus interest, describes Springer’s actions as “a reflection of extreme foolhardiness and/or a reflection of callous disregard or callous indifference to the rights and safety of others … .”

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Police opened a negligent homicide investigation, but to date, no criminal charges have been filed as a result of the fatal crash.

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

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