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Safety work misses Kalanianaole stretch

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    Venus Nunes, left, comforted Julie Kassebeer yesterday, the day after Kassebeer's grandson Samuel was killed in an auto accident on Kalanianaole Highway. Kassebeer and Nunes work together at Castle Hospital. "No matter which way you go ... you pass it," said Samuel's mother, Betty Jo Kassebeer. "I cannot forget."

Kalanianaole Highway has a history of fatal crashes.

And so a number of projects have been completed and are in the works to improve road safety.

But Waimanalo Neighborhood Board Chairman Wilson Kekoa Ho is now wondering what can be done along the beachside straightaway where 11-year-old Samuel Kassebeer was killed by a suspected drunken, speeding driver.

"Day and night, it’s been excessive," Ho said of the speeding. He lives seven homes down from where Sunday’s crash happened. "It’s been a major concern, but because it’s a straightaway, we’re not sure what anyone can do about it."

Sunday’s crash is the third traffic fatality along the beachside stretch since 2003, and the 14th major accident, according to state Department of Transportation statistics and Star-Advertiser files.

State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tammy Mori said extensive safety improvement work has been done along Kalanianaole Highway, but "it doesn’t extend to this particular stretch."

Kassebeer was ejected from the back seat of his family’s vehicle after it was struck by an allegedly speeding vehicle driven by a 20-year-old man, who has since been arrested for driving under the influence.

The vehicle Kassebeer rode in was pulling into a driveway when it was struck. Police believe the suspect was racing with another vehicle before the accident shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday.

The straightaway’s speed limit is 35 mph. The highway is straight, and the visibility is good in the area. The state has in the past placed radar speed signs that tell drivers how fast they are going.

A number of safety improvement projects along Kalanianaole Highway were completed last year. The work included implementing turn lanes, installing bus pullouts and improving street lighting from Olomana Golf Course to Waimanalo Beach Park.

The state also repaired a retaining wall, reconstructed pavement and constructed a rock fall impact barrier in the Makapuu area of the highway.

And currently the state is installing center-line rumble strips, reflector markers for roadway and guardrails, center-line pavement markers and signage along the highway between Hanauma Bay and Lunalilo Home roads.

Mori said the state’s focus has been on those areas, where numerous accidents have occurred.

"There hasn’t been concerns brought up in the past," Mori said of the beachside stretch of the highway.

Kassebeer’s death was the first fatality since 2003, when there were two fatal accidents along the stretch, according to Star-Advertiser files.

In Feb. 1, 2003, a pickup truck swerved off the highway near Kaiona Beach Park, slammed through a concrete pillar and hit a utility pole. Two people died in that accident.

About a month later near the same spot, a motorcyclist was fatally struck by a vehicle that was trying to pass a pickup truck.

Seven people were hospitalized in 2007 after a head-on collision between Bell and Nalu streets on Kalanianaole Highway, where Kassebeer’s accident would occur. Three were hospitalized in serious condition, while four were in stable condition.

Farther south from the scene of Sunday’s accident, another crash that involved speed and racing killed a pair of brothers last year.

On Oct. 18, Benjamin Makekau, 20, was driving with passenger and brother Ikaikakane Makekau, 19, from Waimanalo toward Makapuu. Police suspected at the time that the elder brother was racing an unknown vehicle before he lost control and crashed his vehicle into a building at the Oceanic Institute.

Ho said Sunday’s accident has been hard on him because he grew up with the family. He said the Honolulu Police Department has been diligent in its patrols but that officers cannot be in the area at all times to enforce traffic and drunken-driving laws.

"We need more speed signs, more something, just something to slow people down," Ho said. "The community is not against slowing down. We’re only concerned with saving lives."


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