On July 20, 2017, Ryan Tuazon lost control of his 2010 Scion while driving west on Farrington Highway near Waipahu. The car careened into an adjacent concrete column holding up part of the island’s future elevated rail system.

Tuazon, along with his friend Joshua deGuzman and deGuzman’s girlfriend, Kassandra Kim, died in the fiery crash that evening. All three were 27 years old. DeGuzman and Kim left behind a 9-month-old son, Kaleb.

“Josh and Kas were loved by so many and will continue to be remembered through their son,” deGuzman’s sister, Michele Hokulani Markwith, wrote in an online fundraiser for Kaleb’s care.

The city medical examiner’s autopsy report found Tuazon’s blood-alcohol concentration to be 0.084%, which is above the legal limit to drive.

Now, Kim’s father, David Bueno, is suing Tuazon’s mother, Angela, as the representative of her son’s estate, seeking unspecified damages for wrongful death and negligence. The complaint doesn’t end there, however. It contends the rail columns are too close to the road, and the design there too “unforgiving” for any drivers unlucky enough to swerve off the road.

The city and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, the semi-autonomous agency overseeing rail construction, are also listed as defendants.

A memorial marks the 2017 fatal crash on Farrington Highway. An autopsy report found the driver had been drinking, but a new lawsuit further points at rail columns being too close to the road.

Marcel Honore/Civil Beat

Bueno’s suit asserts that HART and the city should share the blame for what happened alongside Tuazon because there are no protective barriers other than the curb.

Those columns just ewa of Fort Weaver Road pose an “unreasonable risk of harm for all drivers using this section of Farrington Highway,” it states. The city, it adds, must place such “unforgiving roadside hazards an adequate distance from the main lines of travel or shield them from errant vehicles.”

Michelle Yu, spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department, said she didn’t know of any other vehicle collision with the rail columns there since they were installed in that area several years ago.

Bueno’s attorney, Joseph Ahuna, did not respond to a request for comment.

Columns A Few Feet From The Road

The columns have lined the highway there for several years, part of the rail transit project’s initial West Oahu/Farrington Highway construction phase.

Two years after the tragedy, a large roadside memorial dedicated to DeGuzman, Kim and Tuazon still adorns the column where Tuazon’s car hit.

It’s bigger than most memorials for similar fatal crashes — it includes synthetic, durable flower displays; a Kanaka Maoli flag; a basketball left by Tuazon’s friends, religious candles and even beer cans and bottles.

The memorial serves as a marker — but its location also provides clues into the thinking behind including HART and the city in the suit. The westbound lane of traffic is about 3 feet away, with only the curb separating the two.

A roadside memorial wrapped around a rail column near Waipahu rests several feet from the Farrington Highway westbound lane.

The rail columns there “were not properly located, guarded and protected so as to minimize the risk and extent of injury to the occupants of an errant vehicle that should crash into them,” the suit states.

Beyond the suit, HART and city officials did not respond as to whether there are plans to install any other barriers for that narrow stretch in the future.

The state Department of Transportation, which owns Farrington Highway, doesn’t have any such work planned in the next couple of years, according to agency spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige.

Generally, HART and the city are required to restore state highways to the conditions they found them once the rail construction there is finished. The city has had to fund upgrades to traffic signals in some state-controlled intersections where it’s worked, bringing them up to more recent standards.

It’s not clear whether the city would also have to install safety upgrades where the columns run close to the roadway.

In an email, HART spokesman Bill Brennan said the agency’s building contractors must “obtain third party approvals, so whether it’s city or state, there would be review and sign-off.”

He did not elaborate.

Recently, HART has been using the guideway along Farrington Highway, near the crash, to test its systems and driverless rail cars. It’s trying to hand over the first 10 miles from east Kapolei to Aloha Stadium for interim service by the end of next year, although questions remain whether the agency will make that deadline.

The full 20-mile line is slated to be completed by September 2026, according to Federal Transit Administration estimates. HART hopes to get it done by December 2025.

Read Bueno’s lawsuit here:

 

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