Victims identified in fatal crash on Big Island

2 killed in Big Island crash
Courtesy: Kevin Rogers - Drivers diverted to back roads
Courtesy: Kevin Rogers - Drivers diverted to back roads

PUNA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two people were killed in a three-vehicle crash on the Big Island of Hawaii near Keaau on Tuesday afternoon.

The victims were identified as 26-year-old Sean Magee and 86-year-old Eleanor Benedict, both of Keaau.

Puna resident Alan Lakritz said it looked as if two cars were tangled together.

"From my distance it looked like a car sandwich," he said. "Up ahead I could see how it looks like when you watch a NASCAR race, I saw a bunch of smoke and debris flying and I said to myself, 'Uh oh.'"

The accident happened on Highway 130 around 2 p.m. near the Keaau transfer station when Magee, who was driving a Nissan Altima, moved into the oncoming lane to pass another vehicle.

Police say that's when the Nissan Altima collided head-on with a Toyota RAV4.

After the initial collision, police say the RAV4 then hit a pick-up truck traveling in the Keaau direction.

Magee and Benedict, a passenger in the Toyota RAV4, were taken to the Hilo Medical Center, where they were pronounced dead.

Benedict's daughter-in-law, Robin, 54, was driving the RAV4 and was transported to the Hilo Medical Center, where she was treated for a leg injury.

Her husband, Gary, said in a statement, "I'd like to thank the media for the news coverage. It provided my family and me with some closure. I also want to thank our family and friends for their love and aloha during this difficult time."

The driver of the pick-up truck was not injured.

A police investigation closed the highway in both directions for more than five hours. It was reopened about 7:15 p.m.

Pahoa resident Troy Thompson said the traffic from the closure was bumper to bumper for as far as the eye could see.

"When I turned onto it, I could not believe all the traffic," he said.

Sgt. Christopher Gali with the Hawaii County Police Department said the closure was necessary to ensure a thorough investigation. "Just to remind people, it is a crime scene, it's not just a car collision," he said.

The hours-long closure spurred residents and lawmakers to renew their calls for an alternate route in and out of lower Puna. Currently, Highway 130 is the only route.

"I got the state legislature to approve $15 million dollars for at least a portion of a bypass to be construction, so now I just need to work on state DOT (Department of Transportation) to do the bypass," said state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, of Puna.

San Buenaventura said although there is funding for a part of the bypass now, there are still some barriers to overcome. The bypass will affect landowners who have objected to it in the past.      

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