Three weekend crashes, which left two dead and one seriously injured, have prompted the Honolulu Police Department this month to step up enforcement, including the use of plainclothes officers in crosswalks.
Oahu traffic fatalities have jumped to 52 so far this year from 32 a year ago.
HPD Traffic Division Capt. Ben Moszkowicz said Monday at a news conference at HPD headquarters,“Even more alarming than that is the increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities.”
The were 23 pedestrians killed this year compared to four the same time last year, Moszkowicz said.
“Every one of those numbers is a person,” he said, adding that they were family members, co-workers, “people you see every day.”
Victims included: Dr. Eugene Chin, a 76-year-old Mokuleia resident who was killed just before 7 a.m. Sunday by a hit-and-run driver while walking his dog near his home fronting the Mokuleia polo field.
Police said that there does not appear to be trend in the type of pedestrian deaths.
“Of the 23 pedestrian deaths, six were in crosswalks, so it’s not the classic ‘car plus pedestrian in crosswalk’ that we’re having a rash of,” Moszkowicz said.
At least three of the pedestrian deaths were negligent homicide/failure to render aid cases. Four were people walking on the freeway at odd hours of the night. Two happened because the victims lay down in the entrance to a parking garage. About half were classified as criminal cases, Moszkowicz estimated.
“It’s for us too hard to say if it’s any one particular factor we can address,” Moszkowicz said.
Nevertheless, the Traffic Division, with 117 officers, will conduct at least one operation a day every day this month, sometimes multiple locations and times, he vowed. Patrol units also will conduct enforcement in their districts.
On Monday, two plainclothes officers entered marked crosswalks on Lunalilo Home Road in Hawaii Kai to ensure the motorists would yield to them. Other officers “downstream” pulled over 30 motorists who didn’t yield in 1-1/2 hours, citing 13, Moszkowicz said. Warnings also were issued to pedestrians.
“We feel we need to start the conversation,” and enforcement also keeps pedestrian safety top of mind, he said, just as the state’s traffic message boards with their attention-getting ‘Don’t be a lolo driver’ message.
Lance Rae, spokesman for Walk Wise Hawaii, said the No. 1 reason for pedestrian crashes is inattentive behavior. He urges pedestrians to find the safest, not the easiest route, and for motorists to keep their eyes on the road, hands on the steering wheel and mind on the primary task at hand.
Police were still looking Monday for the drivers in two hit-and-run cases, including the Mokuleia crash that killed Chin.
Police, while investigating another case in Waialua, found and seized a white sedan with damage consistent with the crash that involved Chin. The town-bound sedan was speeding when it struck Chin, police said. Police found the car owner, but have been unable to verify who the driver was.
HPD will conduct scientific tests attempting to verify the car’s involvement in the collision and driver’s identity.
They were also looking for the driver of an older model, white Chevy pickup truck, that fled after striking and seriously injuring a 70-year-old Honolulu man, knocking him off his bicycle at 3 p.m. Saturday. He remains hospitalized in serious condition.
The truck driver and bicyclist were makai-bound on Kapahulu Avenue near Kuhio Avenue. Neither license plate information nor driver description are available.
Then at 6:56 p.m. Saturday, a 54-year-old homeless man was lying in front of the driveway of Queen’s Physicians Office Building III parking garage off Lauhala Street.
Police do not think the male driver of a 2017 Nissan Maxima entering the garage could see the homeless man, Moszkowicz said. After being struck, the man was taken in critical condition to the hospital, where he died.
In the Mokuleia case, police will be using a law passed a few years ago, which bumps up the crime to the next degree when “vulnerable users” such as pedestrians, construction and maintenance workers, emergency responders, moped riders, people on personal mobility devices or in wheelchairs are killed. That law escalates the Mokuleia case to first- degree negligent homicide, Moszkowicz said.
Police urge anyone with tips on the above cases to call 723-3430.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the spate of recent fatalities “breaks my heart.”
The city is addressing the issue by converting all street light bulbs to brighter fluorescent ones, allowing drivers at night to better see pedestrians.
A bill up for final vote of the Council Wednesday would require the city to consider “age-friendly principles” in the design of roads, sidewalks and crosswalks, Caldwell said. Another idea is to make flags available at major crosswalks for pedestrians to wave when they step onto the road.
Star-Advertiser reporter Gordon Pang contributed to this report.