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Life Interrupted: Left for Dead, Hilo Man Survives and Thrives

September 16, 2016, 1:00 PM HST
* Updated September 16, 2:03 PM
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Nicholas Iwamoto of NicksKnits. Photo credit: Barry Ishida.

The date was Feb. 1, 2009—Super Bowl Sunday. Twenty-two-year-old Nicholas Iwamoto decided to skip the game and take on one of O‘ahu’s more challenging hikes, Koko Crater. Iwamoto, who now resides in Hilo, was about to enlist in the Hawai‘i Army National Guard and wanted to find out if he was ready for boot camp.

But he never made it home from that hike.

Iwamoto was attacked by Benjamin Davis, a man later declared temporarily insane by the State of Hawai‘i. He woke up at the bottom of a ravine, 100 feet below, with 18 stab wounds.

“I blacked out when he started stabbing me in the throat,” said Iwamoto.

Iwamoto was pushed off the top of the crater and fell 100 feet onto his head. He suffered a broken neck, fractured skull, epidural hematoma, two collapsed lungs, punctured left lung, lacerated liver, lacerated diaphragm, severed temporal artery, concussion, broken right ankle, several broken ribs and severe blood loss.

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“My survival is a miracle in every sense of the word,” said Iwamoto. “The things that were done to keep me alive were painful and sometimes bordered on medieval torture, but I have no reason to complain. I’m still here.”

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A miracle indeed. Mr. Iwamoto not only survived, but is now an advocate for other survivors of violent crime, and has started his own business creating and selling knitted products that he learned to make during his recovery.

“Right after I had neck surgery, I became more sedentary than ever before,” he said. “I saw my sisters knitting and I thought, ʻyou know what, I need to be better than them at this. I want to start doing this.’

My mom taught me the basics and then I heard of a lady named Raynette, who had a yarn store in downtown Honolulu. I went into her store and she told me if I buy some of her yarn, she’d teach me anything I wanted. That was the beginning of NicksKnits™.

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Iwamoto would go to church groups every week and teach the church ladies how to knit.

“They loved it,” he said. “Normally, it should be the other way around, so that was special. It was also good physical therapy for my fingers. I needed to be active because my fingers were cut badly when I was stabbed.The tendons in my fingers were severed as I grabbed the knife several times and tried to shield my face. Knitting was a great natural physical therapy, and the idea that I could make something out of almost nothing is a good feeling.”

Iwamoto is overwhelming grateful for all the help and support he received during his recovery and knitted gifts for those who helped him along the way.

“Itʻs a tangible thank you,” he said. “I use my knits to say thank you to doctors and nurses, and firefighters. I also sell NicksKnits so I can fund my advocacy. I’ve traveled to Maui several times in the past couple of months to support a family that is going through something similar to what I went through, but a 100 times worse. Turns out itʻs expensive to fly, so I make money where I can, and knitting is one such way.”

Knitting was a way for Iwamoto to keep his mind off things while he was recovering and going through trial.

“When I really took my knitting to a new level was the same time I was going through my trial, and my horrific experience with the justice system,” he said. “I received a lot of bad news in a short time, and knitting helped me remove myself from the situation and go to a peaceful, relaxing place. Itʻs sort of like golf in that you have to focus on it. Itʻs tiring and it drains you, but in a good way. Itʻs something that most certainly takes your mind off things, if only for a little while.”

Iwamoto is unable to sue his attacker for restitution because according to the law, Davis did not commit a crime.

“According to the court, Davis was not responsible for his actions,” said Iwamoto.” According to the criminal justice system, he didn’t know right from wrong when he butchered me like an animal and dumped my body off a cliff.”

Davis was released from the state hospital after serving six years. During that time, Davis was allowed unescorted release to attend community college.

“My beef is more with his release than the insanity defense,” said Iwamoto. “His reintegration into society was deemed more important than public safety. That’s what shocks me more than anything.”

Iwamoto now spends his time advocating for others who have experienced similar tragedies.

“I want to earn money to help others,” Iwamoto said. “I feel like I’m in a unique position to help people because of the horrible things I’ve seen and the difficult things I still go through—I can relate to people in a way that is unique.”

For more information on NicksKnits, email [email protected].

Courtesy photo from NicksKnits™.

Courtesy photo from NicksKnits™.

Courtesy photo from NicksKnits™.

Courtesy photo from NicksKnits™.

Courtesy photo from NicksKnits™.

Courtesy photo from NicksKnits™.

Courtesy photo from NicksKnits™.

Courtesy photo from NicksKnits™.

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