A vacationing couple stranded for hours with a flat tire on a dangerous Hawaii road sent a big “mahalo” – or thank you – to the state parks caretaker who saved the day.
“We can never express just how grateful we are for his kindness,” wrote Sheila Kane, 78, in a letter to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources this month.
Kane and her husband of 46 years, Dan, were thanking William “Wade” Latham, a DLNR Division of State Parks Maui caretaker who kept them company until nearly midnight as they awaited a tow truck in the rain.
“I’ve helped a lot of tourists, usually the tow truck’s there in three hours, but this incident, no,” Latham, who has worked with the DLNR for 29 years, told USA TODAY.
“They were an elderly couple in the middle of nowhere and …I just felt like I had to be there for them,” he said.
Dangerous road ahead
Sheila and Dan Kane visited the Hawaiian Islands in December to watch their grandson graduate from Brigham Young University-Hawaii.
The Tennessee couple, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also planned a Maui visit to a church friend, Sheila Kane told USA TODAY.
“One of my friends from Tennessee had said, ‘be sure to go on the road to Hana, it’s beautiful and spectacular,’” she said. “Even though we had three people discourage us from going, we thought, ‘we can handle this.’”
The scenic Hana Highway has 620 curves and over 50 bridges, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
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“It can be (dangerous) when it’s raining, there’s a lot of curves and it can be jam-packed with tourists,” Latham said.
A person the couple met in a gas station said he’d never been as nervous in his life as he was while navigating the narrow road, according to Kane. Instead of making the trip via tour bus as they were recommended, the couple rented a Camaro convertible.
Things took a turn as Sheila Kane, who was driving, exited a one-way bridge.
“This minivan came around and was just squeezing me over and I thought, ‘oh my gosh, we’re going to hit this car,’” she recalled.
Kane gently pulled over, the minivan drove by, and she continued driving a short while – before they realized a tire had torn.
“(Dan) got behind the wheel because by then I was pretty upset, and less than five minutes away, there was this service area and it was still light out, so Dan pulled in,” Kane said.
In an isolated area with no phone service – and as they soon discovered, no spare tire – the couple became stranded around 5:30 p.m.
“We talked to a couple of people and they were nice, wished us well, but not one of them I think even thought about calling for us,” Kane recalled.
That’s until Latham, who was working nearby, came along.
‘A guardian angel’
Latham was taking a break from clearing down trees after a storm in Kaumahina State Wayside Park when he heard the clunk-clunk-clunk of the Kanes rolling in with their disabled vehicle.
Dan Kane approached him for help, and after confirming there wasn’t a spare, Latham says he traveled 5 miles away to call for a tow.
He drove back and told the Kanes someone should be dispatched to them. He returned to work 20 miles away, then checked on the couple around 8 p.m.
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“‘What, you’re still here, the tow truck hasn’t come yet?’” a surprised Latham told them.
As they chatted to pass the time, they became “good friends,” Kane said.
“We learned so much about each other’s family and he even invited us to spend the night at his and his wife’s house,” she said.
They opted to wait with the car until a tow truck came around 11:30 p.m. Meanwhile, an “upbeat” Latham, who’d also called the police, made trips home to bring the couple food and water.
“We feel like he was a guardian angel, he was watching out for us,” Kane said.
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The state parks caretaker reluctantly left the couple around 11 p.m. to prepare for an early morning but urged them to text him when they got help, which they did.
The rain had triggered several accidents that day, which led to the hours-long holdup, the couple learned from the tow truck driver.
“I’m very grateful there are still people in the world that will go the extra mile,” Kane said of Latham’s kindness. “We were very blessed to meet him.”