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Fatal collision in Keaau brings calls for new route

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Hawaii County police identified two people killed Tuesday in a three-vehicle collision on Route 130, also known as the Keaau-Pahoa Road, the only road that connects lower Puna to Hilo.

Sean Magee, 26, and Eleanor Benedict, 86, both of Keaau, died when a 2012 Nissan four-door sedan, driven by Magee, traveling east on Route 130, crossed the center line near the 2-mile marker in Keaau and collided with a 2002 Toyota RAV4 that was traveling west on the road at about 1:46 p.m., police said.

The Toyota sport utility vehicle then collided with a 2005 Ford pickup truck, also traveling west, police said.

Benedict was a passenger in the RAV4. The driver, a 54-year-old Keaau woman, was taken to Hilo Medical Center for treatment of a leg injury.

The driver of the Ford truck, a 24-year-old Hilo man, was not injured.

Magee and Benedict were both pronounced dead at Hilo Medical Center at 6:30 p.m., police said.

It is unknown whether excessive speed, alcohol or drugs were involved in the crash.

Traffic investigators initiated negligent homicide and coroner’s inquest cases and ordered autopsies to determine the exact cause of death for both victims.

The investigation into the crash closed Route 130 for nearly five hours Tuesday. The road reopened shortly before 7 p.m.

“You can’t get home or you can’t get to town, depending on what side you are on,” state Sen. Russell Ruderman (D-Puna) said Wednesday. “What happened yesterday highlights the need for an alternate route to Puna.”

State Rep. Joy San Buena- ventura (D-Hawaiian Acres, Pahoa, Kalapana) said the Legislature appropriated $15 million to design and begin construction on an alternate road that would connect Puna to Keaau.

San Buenaventura said about 25,000 people live in Puna and 15,000 of them work in Hilo. The emergency room at Hilo Medical Center is also cut off when Route 130 is closed, she said.

“If anybody had a heart attack or emergency situation, it would have been very difficult for them to get to the hospital on time,” she said.

“It (Puna) is the fastest-growing area in the state and we have only one road in and out,” Ruderman said.

When lava encroached on area roads last year, the state and county built an alternate route using Railroad Avenue that would have taken vehicles around Route 130 if the lava had cut off the road. But the Railroad Avenue bypass doesn’t go all the way into Keaau.

Ruderman said the county needs to decide on the path of the alternate route — either continuing on Railroad Avenue or using another road.

San Buenaventura said she’s hoping the governor will release the money so that a Route 130 bypass can be planned and construction started.

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