HPD Lieutenant Awed by Officer Response to Fatal Crash
Traffic was backed up south of Kahakai State Park as Lt. Edwin Buyten approached a two-car crash on Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway Sunday afternoon. He noticed smoke rising from the mauka side of the road.
“First thing I see is an engine block in the middle of the road,” the Hawai‘i County Police lieutenant recalled Monday morning.
The head-on collision was called in at 2:10 p.m. between Kua Bay and Kahakai State Park.
While responding to the scene, Buyten said dispatch reports kept rolling in: people pinned, fire, debris.
Sunday’s crash claimed the life of Cassandra Lynn Ellis. Ellis was driving north in a Honda Pilot with two 15-year-old girls and 10-year-old girl when police say a 25-year-old Kamuela man driving south in a Jeep Renegade crossed the center line and hit Ellis head on.
The children from the Honda and the Jeep driver were taken to Kona Community Hospital. The two teens were flown in critical condition to Queen’s Medical Center on O‘ahu. Both underwent surgery for their injuries and are in stable condition as of Monday afternoon.
The 10-year-old was released as well as the 25-year-old.
“In my 18 almost 19 years (in the department) its probably the most violent impacts I’ve ever seen,” Buyten said.
On Monday, Buyten was still overwhelmed by the events of Sunday. While the crash was horrific, he felt an enormous sense of pride for how his officers responded and conducted themselves on such a traumatic scene.
“It’s the single most selfless act as a team that I’ve witnessed in my career,” he said.
Five or six officers were first on the crash scene followed by two supervisors. Buyten said the most senior officer to arrive had two years experience — the rest were just months out of the academy.
“I don’t think words can describe the feeling watching these officers in action,” Buyten said. “When we talk about heroic things, they were doing their job, and they did an amazing job. And I believe they saved lives yesterday.”
As a supervisor, listening to the tone of his officers on the radio, the lieutenant said he could hear the angst in their voices. They meant business.
It’s rare that police get to a scene before the fire department. Despite their limited experience, the officers rose to the occasion as such a chaotic and hectic scene required life-saving measures.
When Buyten got on scene, he said there were two officers doing CPR, breaths and compressions on the woman, later identified as Ellis. They worked on her a good 10 minutes before she was declared dead at the scene.
Buyten’s officers provided First Aid to the three girls. He said an officer treated one of the teen’s by applying a tourniquet. He then stayed and held her hand.
As the 25-year-old man didn’t appear to be too badly injured, officers told him to stay where he was and lie still.
As he got more information about the initial response, Buyten learned how his officers pulled the female victims from the Honda. Their vehicle was on fire and they were all trapped.
“Officers took measures to breach the burning vehicle, enter the vehicle break the steering column,” he said. “Officers suffered superficial burns.”
Hawaii County Fire’s response was phenomenal as well, Buyten said. They put out the car fire and they successfully relieved officers of live-saving efforts and took victims to the hospital.
“We were sweaty, were dirty, we were so happy they arrived,” the lieutenant said. “What a wonderful partnership we have with them.”
Fire officials feel the same about the police. Battalion Chief Michael Grace said the first-responding officers did an outstanding job.
“The out-of-the-ordinary things were done by the police department,” Grace said.
As he looks back on what happened, Buyten thinks there’s a million things his officers learned. But above that, it justified their career choice.
“It really showed they could perform under that pressure,” Buyten said. “Every one of them engaged. They were heroic — every single one of them.”