WAILUA HOMESTEADS — A U.S. Marine veteran of three wars continues to face danger — in his own back yard. A car careened through his backyard wall Saturday, in what has become an almost annual event.
“This is the fourth time that someone has come through my wall and destroyed it,” said J.Q. Smith, homeowner at 5825 Ahakea St., in Wailua Homesteads.
“We are trying to get help with a guard rail. Until then, we are scared to come into the damned back yard.”
In each of the accidents, the drivers were heading uphill on Kuamo‘o Road and passed the Melia Street intersection, then followed the road’s slight curve to the left for about a block before veering off the road to the right — through Smith’s brick wall and into his yard.
The drivers in all four of the accidents have been locals who are familiar with the surroundings, Smith said. They either live in the neighborhood or were visiting family elsewhere in Wailua Homesteads.
The car in Saturday’s accident was driven by a woman in her 30s who lives across the street, Smith said.
“I know the mother and father,” he said. “They came over the next day to help me clean up and said she had fallen asleep at the wheel.”
Smith said he recalls going to bed at around 9 p.m. Saturday, but woke up soon afterward and took a sleeping pill.
At around 11:15 p.m., he said, there was a noise and a shaking that made him think there had been an earthquake.
“I was just completely out of it,” Smith said.
He was struggling to stand, find his wife and dog, and get everyone outside.
“I was bouncing off of the walls and hitting them and falling down,” Smith said. “I hurt my shoulder again falling down.”
After finding his way to the door, Smith said, he noticed that something didn’t look quite right under the street light.
“I thought, oh my God, people have hit the wall again,” Smith said.
A car had come through the brick wall and took out his chicken coop, setting loose his prized flock of Rhode Island reds. The chickens have since been turned over to a friend until Smith decides whether or not to rebuild the coop.
The car stopped just short of his garage. And it just missed the tilapia fishpond that was hit by a truck that came through the wall in 2011.
Smith can only guess at the reasons for the multiple crashes, but said more than one driver told him they’d fallen asleep at the wheel.
The accidents have happened at night and in the daytime. And multiple reflector posts are in place to caution drivers that the road curves to the left.
Only a guard rail would prevent an accident from happening again, Smith said.
“The state has looked at it and they are talking about it,” he said. “This is the fourth or fifth time that someone has breached the wall on this curve.”
In the previous incident, on Nov. 16, 2011, Smith was watering a new tree in the back yard while waiting for a visitor from the Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity. As Habitat’s “veteran of the year,” he said, the group was going to re-roof his house.
“If that Habitat director wasn’t still on his way to the house, he might have been standing right there by that tree with me,” Smith said.
It was about 3 p.m. when a pickup driven by a Waimea woman in her 50s came right through the wall. There was not enough time for Smith to move out of the way.
The mirror on the truck’s passenger side struck his arm, knocking him several yards back, as the truck continued a good 20 yards into his garage.
Smith was also struck by bricks and suffered a cut to his head.
“The mirror on that truck might have saved my life,” Smith said. “Or I would have ridden the front of that truck all the way to my Mercedes.”
Smith said some neighborhood boys who knew his grandson were the first to arrive on the scene. He had just regained consciousness when they came running into his yard.
The driver, who is the daughter of his neighbors, managed to turn off the engine as the wheels were still burning rubber underneath the garage debris. She suffered bruises in the accident but was OK.
“The kids came running out and said ‘That’s Brian’s grandpa,’” Smith said. “I gave them my phone and they called Brian and the ambulance.”
Smith was strapped into a gurney and transported in the same ambulance as the driver.
“She was apologetic and said she fell asleep on her way to visit her family that was just a block away,” he said.
“She knew she was getting sleepy but kept saying ‘It’s just a block away.’”
Smith is still doing physical therapy for his back and legs, and hopes to someday regain the ability to lift his left arm over shoulder level.
The current brick wall replaced a solid gate that was struck twice itself.
In 2010, a vehicle became wedged between the fence and a utility pole, snapping the pole. In that case, the driver was a woman in her 30s who lived up the street.
In an earlier incident, a car glanced off the wall and traveled half a block before taking out a utility pole on the opposite side of the street.
Smith said the contractor who built the home in 1979 said there was no fence at the time. After cars kept running up into the yard, the owner had a fence installed.
Smith bought the home in 2001.
His first experiences with cars coming into the yard started around 2002. He enjoys the property and said his trees provide coffee, lemons, figs, papayas and pomegranates. An aquaponics garden produces vegetables.
The costs to repair the damages and medical bills usually have been covered by the drivers’ insurance companies.
But after one accident in which Smith had the same insurance company as the driver, his homeowners insurance shot up $600 per month. Smith had just put in cabinetry for his tools and the accident caused around $60,000 in damage, including work benches and a water heater.
He worries about declaring the accidents when he sells the house. He said the home’s value is in jeopardy until he can show that work was done to effectively prevent the risk of another accident.
As a retired U.S. Marine Corps 1st sergeant, Smith is a veteran of World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. He was shot in the hand in Vietnam and sent stateside only to be sent back for a nine-month tour upon landing in San Diego.
Smith retired in 1966 after 26 years of active duty, and spent four more years in the USMC Reserves. He managed Reuben’s Hawai‘i in Waipouli for 10 years before retiring.
• Tom LaVenture can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org.