One woman identified in fatal crash off Hana Highway cliff

Police identified the Haiku woman who died Sunday afternoon when a car she was riding in plunged 200 feet over a cliff on Hana Highway and crashed onto rocks.

Anastasia Duval, 37, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said Tuesday. The driver, a 37-year-old Haiku woman whose name has not been released, was taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center in critical condition.

Witnesses said that the women, believed to be twin sisters, fought in the car before the vehicle went over the cliff.

The crash was reported at 4:42 p.m. Sunday. Hana firefighters and Maui police responded to reports that a vehicle had gone over a cliff about 4 miles south of Hana town, Fire Services Chief Edward Taomoto said.

Police reported that a white 2016 Ford Explorer, which had been traveling south on Hana Highway, crashed into a rock wall on the makai side of the roadway approximately one-third of a mile south of Milepost 48 before falling to the rocky shoreline.

Hana resident Virginia Timbal said that she came home Sunday afternoon to find a sport utility vehicle stopped in front of her gate.

A man in a truck was pulled up next to the SUV and was talking to the vehicle’s two female occupants. One woman was outside of the SUV. Timbal said that she thought the three were “talking story” on the side of the road. The man waved to Timbal, as if to say, “It’s OK,” she said.

“Less than five minutes later, I heard this sound like thunder came down and a scream,” Timbal said.

Firefighters and police arrived shortly afterward, and Timbal was asked to direct traffic in front of her home.

She said that a group of Boy Scouts had been driving toward the SUV, and saw it drive off the cliff.

“They were OK, but one boy passenger in the car seen the car go off the cliff,” she said.

Timbal said that the three boys and their adult chaperon were on a camping trip and staying on her property. The man told police that he and the boys saw the women fighting in their vehicle, and that the passenger had pulled the driver’s hair before the crash.

Neighbor Vicki Sawyer said that she heard one of the women yelling after the vehicle went off the cliff. Her husband and two other men ran down the side of the cliff, finding one woman alive and the other unresponsive.

Police and firefighters arrived a short time later.

“They set out the staging area on our lawn because there was room for helicopters to land, and it was the closest property to the crash site,” Sawyer said.

It took about two hours to rescue the survivor and retrieve the victim, who had to be extricated from the vehicle, Sawyer said. The survivor was “talking and moving her mouth” and was medevaced to the hospital from the landing site on her lawn.

“What a sad, sad thing to happen, and the poor girl who did survive is going to have to live with that,” she said.

Hana Fire Capt. Gale Notestone, who responded to the incident, said it was “incredible” that the driver survived. The vehicle landed in the only rocky area below the cliff, and if it had gone 10 feet in either direction, the driver would have died as well, he said.

“It’s amazing that the helicopter was able to get to this too because it was below the level of the highway, so they were very close to the wall,” Notestone said. “Rescue did a great job. Maui’s very fortunate to have such a team; it’s really incredible.”

Notestone, who was heading to the scene to meet with police Tuesday afternoon, said that the biggest concern was for rescuers picking up the women. He said that the force of the helicopter’s rotor blades can loosen branches and rocks, which can fall on rescuers below.

Sunday’s traffic death is Maui County’s eighth for 2016 – compared to four at this time last year. The incident is one of several in which drivers have gone off cliffs this year.

A 26-year-old Wailuku man died Jan. 20 after the van he was driving went over an embankment and down a 200-foot cliff along Kahekili Highway in Kahakuloa. A passenger survived the crash and was able to climb out of the car and up to the roadway.

One day later, a woman drove her car off Honoapiilani Highway and down a cliff side near the pali lookout. The woman had to be rescued but was uninjured.

Taomoto said there has been a noticeable amount of cars driving off cliffs in recent years, but he characterized it as “more coincidental” than an “increase.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s a trend,” he said. “It’s a random thing, historically.”

Taomoto said that, based on the current investigation, including photos from the busted barrier and witness accounts, the Hana Highway crash “was not a preventable accident.” He said county and state officials can spend money to reinforce highway guardrails, but it would ultimately take away money from needed roadway safety improvements.

“There’s a balance and spending the resources where it’s really needed,” he said. “You can’t do it everywhere. Fiscally, it’s impossible, so where do you draw line?”

Sawyer said she would like to see speed bumps, more signs or possible a repaving of the road near the crash site. It occurred near Pu’uiki Hill, where two straightaways straddle the curving road on the hill.

Sawyer said she has seen many drivers speed through. “They should red flag it better. A couple speed bumps would do it.”

Notestone said that crashes on Hana Highway usually involve tourists who are “out of their element” and unfamiliar with the tight and winding roads. However, he said, the road’s characteristics are a “saving grace” and force drivers to slow down.

“We often get visitors saying, ‘Hey you must get a lot of accidents,’ but in actuality there’s far less than what you think. People travel slow; it’s not a high-speed road. There’s so many tight turns and narrow areas, you just can’t travel that fast.”

All elements surrounding Sunday’s incident are still being investigated, police said. A helicopter removed the sport utility vehicle from the site Tuesday.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.