The several hours Piilani Highway was closed after a fatal pedestrian accident Monday during the after-work rush hour was to ensure a proper investigation, a Maui police official said Tuesday in light of reports of traffic gridlock in South Maui.
"I understand that the public can become upset because of the traffic that is caused by the road closure," said Lt. Wayne Ibarra, a police spokesman, in an email.
On Monday, Lynnette Marie Korinko, 49, of Kihei was crossing Piilani Highway at the Waipuilani Road intersection in an area without a crosswalk, when a Toyota truck heading toward Maalaea struck her around 4 p.m., police said.
Shortly thereafter, police closed Piilani Highway at that point and diverted Kahului-bound traffic to Piikea Avenue and south-bound traffic to East Waipuilani Road.
Ibarra said Tuesday that traffic investigators told him that they had not received any traffic complaints resulting from the road closure and their investigation.
But residents and businesses, contacted by The Maui News, reported two-hour travel times from Wailea to Kihei, people running red lights and motorists driving on the wrong side of the road. Some motorists even parked their cars on the side of the road and walked and ran to their destinations.
Kihei resident Brigitte Smith called the ordeal "a little scary," as she walked in Kihei town during the traffic backup and saw cars running red lights and endangering pedestrians like her who were walking legally in crosswalks.
"I was crossing the road. People were trying to run the red light and go through the crosswalk," she said.
Motorists also were driving on the wrong side of the road in an attempt to get out of the traffic jam. Other frustrated motorists screamed at each other, she said.
Smith, who is a teacher's aide and works at the front desk of Kama'aina Kids Pi'ilani Preschool across from the Kihei Safeway, said there were parents who were caught in traffic and were late to pick up their children. The school closes at 5:30 p.m.
The last pickup Monday was at 6:40 p.m., Smith said, noting that no one was charged the late fee for tardy pickups.
One parent did get out of a car and ran for about a half-hour to get to the preschool to avoid paying the late fee, she said.
Smith, too, decided to walk rather than drive Monday night to pick up her son, who was at baseball practice at Kalama Park. With the traffic jams, she told him to walk to a nearby relative's house, where she would walk to meet him.
Smith said it took her boss two hours to get to her home just two miles away from the preschool.
"Any street you could think of was bumper to bumper," Smith recalled.
The traffic woes caused problems for some businesses at Kihei Kalama Village. Some employees could not make it to work on time, said property manager Evelyn Long.
Some employees were an hour late to work, she said, and some businesses had to hold back staff members, who were planning to leave, because their relief had not yet arrived.
The traffic mess also kept customers from patronizing Kihei Kalama Village and Azeka Place, said Long, who also handles property management for the Azeka complex.
The only business at Azeka that saw a little bump in business was Java Cafe, Long said.
Vietnamese Cuisine at Azeka Makai served about six to seven tables Monday, when the restaurant usually serves triple that number.
"Usually, Monday is a good day," said waiter Harold Feliciano.
One customer reported it took two hours to travel from Wailea to Kihei, he said.
The restaurant closed about an hour early at 8:30 p.m. - shortly after the road was reopened - because business was so slow, Feliciano said.
A preliminary investigation showed that Korinko had been walking on the Wailea side of Waipuilani Road toward Piilani Highway, police said. When she reached Piilani Highway, she paused for Wailea-bound traffic to clear, walked across the two Wailea-bound lanes and stopped on the double-solid yellow lines dividing the highway.
After waiting for some traffic to go by, she began crossing the two Maalaea-bound lanes. Once she reached the shoulder lane, a black 2004 Toyota Tacoma, which was traveling toward Maalaea, struck her.
She was taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center, where she was later pronounced dead.
Both the driver of the truck, a 40-year-old Paia man, and his passenger, a 32-year-old Haiku man, were not injured in the crash, police said.
Korinko's death was Maui County's second fatality of the year, compared to three at the same time last year.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.