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Waianae family mourns teen girl killed on highway

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Mary Toyama, grandmother of Kailen Wong, arranged a photograph at a roadside memorial for 17-year-old Kailen Wong today. Wong was struck by an SUV on Friday night while crossing Farrington Highway.

There were tears still in Jolena Toyama’s eyes but not so heavy that Toyama couldn’t spot the two adolescent girls lazily crossing the highway fronting Maili Beach Park.

“Babies!” she yelled. “Please use the sidewalk. It’s not safe to cross there.”

The girls giggled to each other and then returned a pair of wary smiles at Toyama.

“Seriously,” Toyama called. “I just lost a child right here. Please use the sidewalk.”

The girls nodded and ran the short remaining distance off of the road and into the park while Toyama’s reddened eyes lingered on the expanse of Farrington Highway, just off Maliona Street, where two nights earlier her daughter Kailen Wong was struck and killed by an SUV.

Witnesses told Toyama that her daughter had just exited a bus and was attempting to cross the highway. Two vehicles slowed to let her pass. A third did not. The driver, a 47-year-old man, said he never saw the girl.

On Saturday, family and friends erected a small roadside memorial and lit candles in her honor. Today, Wong and several family members returned to re-light the candles and to share their memories of a young woman whose strong, independent spirit left a meaningful imprint on those around her.

Family friend Puna Cleaver remembered Wong as a sweet, happy girl who loved bright colors and who expressed her creativity through anime and cosplay.

Cleaver said her seven children were drawn to Wong, who always made time to play with them.

“She had a big, big heart in a tiny little body,” she said.

Toyama said she was first notified of the accident by Emergency Medical Services. As she and her brother rushed to The Queen’s Medical Center, her social media accounts lit up with concerned friends who had heard early reports on the nightly news.

“At first I thought it might have just been a teenage joyride and maybe she got a broken leg or something,” Toyama said. “I was going to give it to whoever was driving. I thought I could just get in there, scold her and then say, ‘OK, let’s go home.’

“We’d had that conversation before,” Toyama said. “I told her before to be careful because the worst call I could ever get would be the call at 1 a.m. telling me my daughter was dead.”

Wong was raised by her paternal grandparents and graduated last spring from Waianae High School, where she had been active in several programs. Her family said she was able to explore her interest in digital media through the school’s innovating Searider Productions program. An accomplished clarinet player, she was also part of an local all-star band that performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Despite her cheerful demeanor, Toyama said her daughter had also been dealing with personal challenges. Her paternal grandfather died two years ago. More recently, her paternal grandmother moved into a senior care facility, leaving Wong feeling displaced, Toyama said.

Still, there were indications that Wong was ready to move forward. She had recently gotten a state ID card and was interested in finding a job. Her maternal grandfather, Jonathan Toyama, said Wong was also interested in moving to Las Vegas, where he and his wife live, to go to college and study art and design.

“She was the love of my life,” Toyama said.

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