HAWAII(KHON2) — A 58-year-old woman is dead after being electrocuted by a downed power line that fell on her car at around 8:40 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12. Hawaii County Police and Firefighters responded to the incident.
On Thursday, Oct. 14, Big Island police identified the woman as Cindy Lehuanani Gonsalves-Pascual of Pahoa. The incident happened in the Hawaiian Beaches subdivision near Pahoa.
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An autopsy performed Wednesday morning on the woman concluded that her death was the result of severe electrocution injuries. Her death was also ruled as an accident.
“We got a report of a car on fire with people inside and wires arching,” explained Hawaii County Fire Department Assistant Chief Darwin Okinaka.
Okinaka said the couple who were inside of the car tried to get out before they arrived. Puna Patrol officers arrived on the scene and said the man made it out safely through the tailgate. The women fell while trying to exit the vehicle and were electrocuted.
The woman was unresponsive on the ground and burned due to the fire, Okinaka said. The man tried to help her but was thrown to the ground by the force of the electricity.
“Our units had to wait until HECO arrived to clear the scene to de-energize the line so it was safe to intervene,” Okinaka added.
The female occupant was transported to Hilo Medical Center where she was pronounced dead, and the male occupant was treated at the scene for minor injuries.
Police said the victim’s identity is being withheld until her family is notified.
In a statement, a spokesperson from Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) said:
“We were informed about the incident at about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday. Power was interrupted at 8:57 p.m. to allow first responders to access the vehicle and passenger. Service was restored to about 1,700 customers in Hawaiian Beaches by 9:50 p.m.”
A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said he knew the couple and that they lived in their car.
“Their car broke down right there in my driveway… I went allow them to stay,” the neighbor said.
He said he was getting ready to cook dinner and was looking out his window when it happened. He could see the wind violently shaking the trees before the branch broke on the power line.
“The line went snap and fall down and could see um hit the ground,” he explained. “Then could see one long streak of fire on the ground… The wire was touching the car, and the thing just went burn up. We lost one good sister.”
What should people do if they are in the car and a power line falls on it or touches it?
According to Damien Kim, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 1186, it is best to stay in the car. “If you can, just stay in your vehicle, call 911 and wait for help to arrive.”
Kim said if the vehicle is on fire, or filling with smoke, the occupants can exit and follow specific directions to prevent getting electrocuted.
“Carefully open your door, you jump out. Hop out of the car with the two feet on the ground,” he said. “Shuffle your feet as far away as possible to get away from that source where the (live power line) is touching the ground itself.”
Kim also said people need to keep their feet as close together as possible because that will keep them grounded.
“You ever see birds landing on the power lines and wonder how come they don’t get shocked? It’s because they land and sit there with two feet on the wire,” Kim explained. “So (electricians) call it the same potential; so that’s why they don’t get shocked. Once you move your feet so that one touches another type of source, that’s when you end up getting shocked.”
He said to not touch the car or anything else, and rain can make the situation it even more dangerous.
“If the ground is wet and a live wire is on the ground, electricity would spread a lot more easier and you can get shocked electrocuted,” Kim said.
Anyone in the vicinity should stay away and call 911. Do not try to grab, touch or pull anyone who is getting electrocuted.
“If you cannot, and you really want to help, don’t grab anything that’s conductive or metal,” Kim said. “Use a piece of wood, a two-by-four, plastic pipe or even your leather belt to be able to grab a person and move them. Don’t touch them yourself.”
Additionally, people should always treat a hanging power line like it is energized.
“You can’t see electricity so you’re going to have to always assume that it’s live and take those precautions, just to be on the safe side,” Kim explained.
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Hawaii Island Police asked that anyone who may have witnessed the accident or who has information, contact Lieutenant Rio Amon-Wilkins of Area I, Criminal Investigation Section at (808) 961-2252.