‘He will live forever in our hearts’

KAUMAKANI — Friends held a vigil on Monday at the site where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a responding police vehicle on Saturday night.

Around a dozen friends gathered near the trestle bridge just west of the main entrance to Kaumakani camp on Kaumualii Highway to mourn the death of Michael Kocher Jr., 19, of Hanapepe.

Kaeo Parongao said Kocher was a gifted dive instructor and the two enjoyed scuba diving together at Koloa Landing. His thoughts were with the family that he said was very nice and close.

“He was a good local boy,” Parongao said. “He was humble and not judgmental of anybody.”

Kocher was walking on the roadway at around 9:35 p.m., just east of the Kaumakani Post Office, when he was struck by an eastbound Toyota Corolla, according to a county news release. A police officer responding to the scene, also heading east, then struck Kocher a second time.

Kocher had no vital signs and was presumed dead at the scene. He was transported to Wilcox Memorial Hospital where a medical doctor formally pronounced him.

An autopsy is scheduled for later this week.

One friend, known as Nainoa, sat facing the memorial that was a bodyboard signed by Kocher’s friends. He and the others were mostly silent and looked at the board in tears.

“He was our boy,” said friend Hazzard McDougall. “He will live forever in our hearts.”

Kiley Perreira said Kocher had a lot of friends who respected him for his kind, easy-going way.

“He was a good friend and very humble,” he added. “Everyone just decided to sign this bodyboard and come down here together to remember him.”

Ashlen Bueno said she first met Kocher in elementary school.

A barista at Little Fish Coffee in Hanapepe, she said that she knew Kocher. It was just not the time to talk about it, she said.

Over at Salt Pond Beach Park, other friends inside a barbecue tent said that Kocher was one of the few non-Hawaiians who hung out with them. They got to know him through his parents, they said.

“He was a good boy,” said Tim Oga, of Hanapepe Heights. “He had a lot of friends.”

“He was a good person with a lot of potential,” said Gabriel Banasihan, another friend. “He enjoyed learning.”

Banasihan added that his niece, Rayne Banasihan, was driving a few vehicles behind the one that first struck Kocher. She stopped to render assistance and was trying to help him when he was struck again.

“He was alive and responsive,” Banasihan said of Kocher about the first accident.

The county hasn’t named the officer involved.

Jason Koeppel, of Eleele, said he was returning from a mixed martial arts event when traffic came to a stop. They weren’t there long before the squad car came by and they heard screeching tires before Kocher was hit again about 100 yards from the bridge.

“I’ve only been here a few months, but I did meet him here at Salt Pond,” Koeppel said.

Akeem Allen, of Eleele, said he and Kocher clicked as the Caucasian and the African-American in the group who had both lived on the Mainland.

“I met him about eight months ago and we cruised together,” Allen said. “May God bless his soul and may God be with his family.”

Michael Starks, of Murphy, North Carolina, said his family was deeply saddened by the news of the death of their former neighbor. He said Kocher’s mother has family in Murphy and they lived there from the time Kocher was in middle school until he returned to Kauai after his freshman year and graduated from Waimea High School in 2013.

Kocher became close with Michael Starks’ children Gabriel Starks and Samuel Starks. Kocher lived next door to the family and they hung out and attended the same church.

“He spent a lot of time in our home and we got to know him and the family,” Starks said. “He was a great kid and we are shocked to hear about what has happened to him.”

As a volunteer fireman, he has responded to several car wrecks and found the news disturbing. He said their thoughts are with the family and wants them to know how much they thought of Kocher.

Starks recalled that Kocher was a typical good teen who played basketball and video games. He used to ramble through the Carolina woods with his sons shooting squirrels and throwing rocks.

“He was good, kind and generous,” Sparks said. “He was very happy and outgoing and always had a smile on his face.”

The crash remains under investigation and anyone who may have information on Kocher’s whereabouts prior to the crash Saturday evening is urged to contact Kauai police at 241-1711.

It marked Kauai’s first traffic fatality of 2015.

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