Friday, August 13, 2010

Tragedy at the Treetops

The distance from City Hall (A) to Treetops Restaurant (B)
 is 5 miles, according to Google Earth.
The lush vegetation is fed by constant rain, and the jungle threatens to encroach. The Manoa valley is only a few miles from the Honolulu highrises, but its proximity to the watershed makes it seem a world away. At the end of Manoa road is the defunct bird-themed sanctuary, Paradise Park, which has been closed for nearly two decades. A park and restaurant are there now, but when asked for directions to the Treetops Restaurant most Honolulans will tell you that it’s at Paradise Park.

The weekday lunch is an oldtimer’s favorite. Diners get plenty of food at a reasonable cost, and the location is far away from the traffic and noise of downtown. On a quiet afternoon last week, the Treetops parking lot turned into a scene of horror.

The meeting had broken up, and four friends continued their conversation in the parking lot. They didn’t see the SUV bearing down on them until the last moment. Two were crushed under the wheels and dragged twenty feet; they died at the hospital. Another required surgery and is recovering, while the fourth suffered scrapes that were treated at the scene.

The driver was a friend to all of them and was trying to do a good deed for the owner of the SUV by moving the vehicle:
[Dexter] Lum and the other victim, 77-year-old Martin Wong of Kaneohe, were both 33rd Degree Masons in Hawaii. [The driver, Charles] Wegener is the grand master in Hawaii, the top Mason in the state.

Fellow Masons said Wegener had been moving the white Lexus SUV for a fellow Mason when he hit four men in the parking lot of Treetops Restaurant at Paradise Park. In addition to the deaths of Lum and Wong, an 81-year-old man was taken to the hospital with a broken hip. The fourth man was knocked down but not injured.

The group of men had been attending a luncheon for Masons.

Friends said the owner of the SUV had it modified for left-foot driving after he had a stroke, and the unusual arrangement caused Wegener to hit the gas instead of the brake.
After a tragedy it’s natural to look for explanations. But the driver passed the alcohol and drug tests, and investigation of the SUV modifications showed that they were performed by a licensed facility.

Sometimes bad things just happen, and no one is to blame. The seniors who died counted on more productive years and time spent with their loved ones---another reminder that those of us who are alive, like my younger brother who was the only one lucky enough to walk away unscathed, have a lot to be thankful for. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

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