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Scooter crash in Hilo kills pioneering UH astronomer


Walter Steiger, a University of Hawaii professor emeritus of physics and astronomy and considered one of the founders of the UH astronomy program, was killed Sunday in a scooter crash in Hilo.

Big Island police said Steiger, 87, was driving west on a 2009 Honda Metropolitan scooter on Kukuau Street at 1:20 p.m. when he failed to stop at a stop sign and broadsided a 2006 Nissan sport utility vehicle. The SUV was traveling north on Komohana Street.

The driver of the Nissan, a 51-year-old Hilo man, was not injured.

Fire rescue personnel took the Nissan’s passengers, a 41-year-old woman and a 9-year-old girl, to Hilo Medical Center, where they were treated for minor injuries and released.

They were all wearing seat belts.

Steiger, who was wearing a helmet, was pronounced dead at Hilo Medical Center at 3 p.m.

Police said it does not appear that alcohol, drugs or speeding were involved.

It was the fourth traffic fatality on the Big Island this year, compared with five at this time last year.

Steiger received a bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT in 1948, after having served three years in the military. After receiving an master’s degree in physics at UH in 1950, he earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cincinnati and was offered an assistant professorship at UH.

In an attempt to take advantage of Hawaii’s natural assets, Steiger proposed to look into the potential of an astronomical observatory on one of Hawaii’s volcano summits. That led to the establishment in 1957 of an interim solar observatory on Oahu at Makapuu Point and, in 1961, a permanent facility on Haleakala.

After Steiger retired from UH-Manoa in 1980, he served as manager of the Science Center of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu until 1986.

Steiger was site manager of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on Mauna Kea from 1987 to 1992. From 1982 to 1984 he served on the UH Board of Regents.

Since 1993 he had been a lecturer in physics and astronomy at UH-Hilo.


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