High winds and brittle tree limbs made a potentially lethal combination earlier this week for a couple driving on Kalihiwai Bridge when their car was damaged by a branch that struck the windshield, roof and passenger-side door.
Shikihah Hamman and her fiancé, Ryan Voight, were traveling Monday from Princeville to Kilauea through a canopy of 70-foot-high albesia trees, when Hamman noticed a cracking, 7-foot branch falling toward the car.
The albesia branch that plummeted onto Hamman’s car shattered on contact, according to police who arrived at the scene to pick up the bits and pieces of it left behind.
Hamman said if someone else had been driving on Kuhio Highway in the opposite direction, she and her fiancé might have been killed.
“I saw (the branch) and leaned over and put my head in his lap and he swerved the car into the other lane,” Hamman said. “Then the whole entire windshield smashed in and we felt the impact.”
Neither of the two was injured.
Notoriously brittle and shallow-rooted, the fast-growing albesia tree is an invasive species that exists on several parts of the island.
It is reportedly spreading on parts of the North Shore in the wake of the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam breach, said Hawai‘i’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Robert Lee.
Hamman’s car, a 95 Honda Accord, was totaled in the incident. Valued at around $4,000, it will cost $6,000 to fix.
“And I don’t have that kind of money,” she said.
The state Department of Transportation is responsible for clearing state-owned highways such as Kuhio Highway. The county is responsible for clearing county-owned roadways, county spokeswoman Mary Daubert said.
The area where Voight and Hamman were driving when the branch fell is the same place where state DOT worker Johnathan Hirata was killed trimming trees near the Kalihiwai Bridge on Jan. 17.
Hirata’s crew was sent to the site after complaints of fallen branches two weeks earlier, said Scott Ishikawa, HDOT spokesman.
No maintenance has been done by the state to the area since Hirata’s death, Ishikawa said, noting the state will look into hiring a contractor to cut and trim the 55- to 75-foot trees.
“I don’t have a timeline, but we’ll have to hire out for this,” Ishikawa said. “We don’t have equipment at our district office to get to the higher portions of these trees.”
Ishikawa, who said he and the department were “grateful” no one was injured in the incident, said high winds were the likely cause for the branch to fall.
He also said that Hamman can fill out a claim form to initiate a state DOT investigation and possible compensation for her loss.
A timeline for that could take up to three months, according to the state’s Department of Accounting and General Services risk management.
In the meantime, Hamman, who has minimal car insurance coverage, has no transportation.
If she rents a car, she only would be reimbursed if the state is found to be at fault, Ishikawa said.
“She should keep her receipts,” he said.
Police said there have been no other recent reports of fallen branches causing damage on Kalihiwai Bridge.