MILILANI, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The tow truck driver and father fatally struck early Thursday by a woman accused of driving drunk has thrown the tight-knit community of tow truck operators into mourning ― and raised new questions about a law that was meant to make the job safer.
Aaron Malama was hit early Thursday after being struck while trying to hook up a stalled vehicle on the H-2 Freeway in Mililani. He was initially taken in critical condition to a hospital.
“My friend called me this morning and they told me that Aaron got hit. They thought he was still alive," said his former coworker Avery Axtell. "He passed away at the hospital.”
Tow truck operator Austin Kanamu responded to the scene.
“It’s a very eerie feeling seeing the damage of the car and knowing what happened to somebody that you know," said Kanamu.
Police said the crash happened about 1 a.m. when a driver was heading northbound on the freeway in Mililani when she veered out of her lane and plowed into the tow truck driver and a second man.
The second victim, a 49-year-old man, was taken to a hospital in serious condition.
Police arrested the 47-year-old driver ― Edrina Rapis ― on suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant and two counts of first-degree negligent injury.
Rapis had been convicted of DUI after an accident in 2004 and lost her license for one year.
Investigators believe alcohol is also a contributing factor in Thursday’s crash, and they’re still looking at whether speed or drugs were involved.
Rapis was released pending further investigation.
Malama’s death is raising new questions about the dangers tow truck drivers face on the job.
Hawaii became the 50th and final state to enact the “Move Over” law in 2012, aimed to protect those working on the side of the road.
Kanamu said the law is constantly ignored and almost impossible to enforce, leaving them in danger.
“Every time one of us goes out on a call on the freeway, you’re lucky if you get one car that moves over," Kanamu said. "It’s a scary experience feeling a car or a semi pass you at 60, 65.”
Failure to comply with the “Move Over” law may result in up to a $1,000 fine.
Malama’s friends want tougher punishments.
“Especially drinking and driving. We’re picking up the accidents from drinking and driving,” said Axtell. “We’re just trying to get home to our families.”
“All it takes is one person to mess that all up and now we don’t have a friend,” added another former coworker, Ronald Ilae III. “I really wish I could have been there. At least watching his back or something.”
His friends say Malama leaves behind his parents, his girlfriend and his son.