Hundreds gather to mourn girl, mother killed in Nanakuli crash — and to call for action

Hundreds turned out in Nanakuli on Thursday evening to mourn a girl and her mother who were killed in a weekend traffic crash.
Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 9:31 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2022 at 10:21 PM HST
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NANAKULI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds turned out in Nanakuli on Thursday evening to mourn a girl and her mother who were killed in a weekend traffic crash.

But many also were galvanized to send a message against speed and driving under the influence — a message they hope can finally be turned into more action and fewer traffic deaths.

Leah Hanakahi, 7, was a student at Ka Waihona O Ka Naauao, a public charter school in Nanakuli. The school built a koa, or shrine, of rocks on the shoreline in her honor.

Dozens of people lined up to leave lei and other offerings to mourn the girl and her mother, Kelsey Palisbo, who were killed Saturday when the parked vehicle they were in was struck by a car that had gone out of control on Haleakala Avenue.

Those people came not just to mourn, but also to stage a major show of force against drunk and speeding drivers.

“People are standing up and saying they can’t take any more of this kind of death and this kind of tragedy any more,” said state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro.

Honolulu police said an estimated 800 people lined Farrington Highway fronting Leah’s school to wave signs. We were told that Leah and her mother would often be at other sign-waving events that followed traffic tragedies in the area.

What happened to them has pulled the community closer together. Leah’s father, Stuart Hanakahi, hopes it sends a message.

“It should, it should. ‘Cause when is all this gonna stop? They’re setting a trend and the trend didn’t stop yet. It should stop,” he said.

But roadside memorials won’t be enough to get people to slow down.

“People driving over a hundred miles an hour in a 45 zone, that is really dangerous and it shows they don’t give a rip about anybody else on the street,” said Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm, who pledged that his office would work with police to get a conviction and what he called an “appropriate sentence.”

Police arrested Joseph Peters-Holokai, 27, after the crash. Officers said he was speeding in the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands neighborhood when he lost control and hit the parked vehicle across the street from Leah’s home.

“DHHL is very well aware of the speeding problems in the Nanakuli homestead, and indeed they have plans for speed calming measures on Haleakala Avenue, Nanakuli Avenue and a lot of the other areas, the big arteries,” said Shimabukuro.

“It’s gotta get done urgently,” she added. “And I know that DHHL is working diligently to make that happen. But it can’t be soon enough.”

Meanwhile, the koa for Leah helps the community and her school remember her and her smile.

“And that to me is part of the light of life that all of these children possess,” said Ka Waihona Principal Kalehua Krug. ”And when stupid decisions put that light out, we have to lean in on each other and we have to become a stronger community to not let it happen over and over again.”

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