Error on death certificate of matriarch killed in Lahaina wildfire causes fresh pain for family

A Maui family says an error on their beloved matriarch’s death certificate is causing them unnecessary pain and confusion.
Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 9:11 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 28, 2023 at 2:06 AM HST
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LAHAINA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Maui family says an error on their beloved matriarch’s death certificate is causing them unnecessary pain and confusion.

Donna Gomes, 71, died in last month’s wildfire in Lahaina.

Gomes lived at the bottom of Lahainaluna Road.

Her family says that’s where authorities told them they found her body.

However, when they received her death certificate a few weeks ago, the location of where she died showed an address about a mile away from that.

“It’s been hard because we haven’t had time to even fully grieve her,” said Tehani Kuhaulua, Gomes’ oldest grandchild.

Gomes was the matriarch.

As tough as they come – with a heart of gold.

Her death from the August 8th Lahaina wildfire shattered her whole family.

“I saw a video that went viral … and on that video, what looked to be my mom on Lahainaluna Road, I was for certain that that was her. A lot of other family members agreed that was her,” said Gomes’ daughter, Sallyann Gomes-Borden.

“They said that my DNA matched 99.5% someone who was in the backyard. So, I was a bit disturbed because I was for certain that on Lahainaluna Road, that was her, not in the backyard. Then, when we get the death certificate, the death certificate reads an address that was not even affected by the fire.”

Most death certificates don’t have a location of death. However, the certificates issued to those who died in the Lahaina wildfires have a location because it was a mass casualty event.

Gomes lived at 359 Lahainaluna Road. The location of her death on her death certificate shows she died at 755 Kuialua Street.

“Which is like 10 blocks up Kelawea Mauka,” said Kuhaulua.

“Right. So, how would she have gotten there on her two feet because her car was across the street, which was burned, and that place was not affected. Yet, you found her remains at that address. So, it was a bit disturbing to me. Like, now we’re uncertain. Like, do the remains, that ashes that we have, is that really my mom?” Borden said.

The Hawaii Department of Health said it will ensure that the family of Donna Gomes will not be charged for the corrected death certificate.

“The DOH continues to provide five free death certificates for victims of the Maui wildfires and is also replacing vital records lost in the fire at no charge. So far, DOH has issued 1,300 free vital records in connection to the Maui wildfires,” said a DOH spokesperson.

However, the family wants an apology and confirmation that the ashes they have really belong to their beloved matriarch.

“To me, it was just complete negligence,” said Kuhaulua. “You could have just taken the two minutes to double-check, and then we probably wouldn’t be having these doubts.”

The family is asking all other family members who lost a loved one in the Lahaina wildfire to double-check their death certificates.

They said they hope that no one will have to go through what they are going through.