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Hawaii Island police step up traffic enforcement amid worrisome spike in DUI-related crashes

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 6:14 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 25, 2021 at 12:41 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii County police are gearing up for holiday traffic enforcement amid a deadly month involving drivers suspected of driving under the influence.

On Nov. 13, a 22-year-old Captain Cook man died on Highway 11 in South Kona.

Two days later, a 57-year-old Captain Cook man died also in South Kona.

And on Nov. 18, a 13-year old pedestrian was hit and killed by a driver in Waikoloa Village. Jaychris Romer, 21, was arrested for negligent homicide and driving under the influence.

“It seems like a majority of them, even if they were single-vehicle (accidents), were involving speed, alcohol, drugs or a combination of all three,” said Sgt. Thomas Koyanagi, of the department’s traffic unit.

County-wide, fatalities have already hit pre-pandemic numbers.

There have been 25 deadly crashes so far this year. Last year, there were 15 — but Koyanagi thinks that could be because of COVID restrictions.

In all of 2019, there were also 25 fatalities. Koyanagi said the easing of restrictions will mean more holiday gatherings — and more DUI arrests.

“I think a lot of them are going to let their guard down and actually indulge a little more than what they normally do,” he said.

Hawaii County made more than 964 impaired driving arrests so far this year.

In all of 2020, there were 1,001 arrests. The year before, 1,085.

Koyanagi said many of the arrests are not just drunk drivers.

Officers are seeing more drivers who combined alcohol and drugs, before getting behind the wheel.

“They’re coming in with methamphetamine, marijuana, other prescription meds, other illegal drugs. Some of them are actually on three different substances,” he said.

Koyanagi emphasized that people need to enjoy the holidays and reunite with ohana after a year of shutdowns. But he warns police will be watching the roads not just for those under the influence but also those speeding, using cell phones and not wearing a seatbelt.

Stepped up enforcement runs through the new year and some of the overtime is funded using federal grants.

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