2 killed in overnight house fire in Waipahu

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Mar 05 2013 04:21:00 AM HST

Waipahu fire devastates family and church who say that the patriarch was a truly selfless man dedicated to his children and his church.

Waipahu -

A father and daughter were killed early Tuesday morning in Waipahu after a fast-moving fire engulfed their two-story home at 94-415  Apowale Street.

The Honolulu Fire Department responded to the fire at 12:45 a.m. When fire fighters entered the home about 35 minutes later, two bodies were found on the ground floor, one near the entrance, the other toward the rear. The two deaths were the first fire fatalities on Oahu this year.

Neighbors identified the victims as 84-year-old Haruki "Harry" Tokita, and his oldest daughter, Karen Tokita, believed to be in her mid 50s.

"It's a shame that such a nice person and the daughter would pass away," said Eileen Soneda, who lives across the street. "I've known him for 50 years, and I never saw him with a mad face; he was always so pleasant."

When fire crews arrived at the scene, the home was already engulfed in flames. Fire department spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig said a 51-year-old man was standing near the burning home, and had to be pulled away by police. Neighbors identified him as Randy Tokita, the elderly victim's son.  He was taken to a local hospital for observation.  

Pastor Steven Wygle of Lanakila Baptist Church and School on nearby Waipahu Street, told KITV4 Harry Tokita had been a member of the congregation since 1969. Tokita served as the church's senior deacon, and had come to be known affectionately as the "Candy Man." Wygle said Tokita would give away sweets to parishioners every Sunday morning. 

"Every time he came to church, he always had a big pocketful of candy, (and) every time he saw children in the aisles, he'd shake their hand and he put a piece of candy in their hand," said Wygle. "It got to be where even the adults in the church thought it was so cute that they'd say, 'Well, I've been good, can I have a piece of candy?' And brother Harry would always give them a piece."

Tokita also worked as a landscaper and caretaker at the church's high school in Ewa on Renton Road. Children at the school were told of his death Tuesday morning during a special chapel.

"Every kid was just brokenhearted because they all love him," said Wygle. "We're yet to feel the ripples of his absence. We haven't even gotten over the shock phase yet."

After losing his wife Carolyn to cancer in the mid 90s, Tokita looked after the couple's three children on his own. Wygle said all of the children suffered from mental disabilities, but Tokita never asked anyone for help, including the government.

"It's says he was a pioneer American, and he didn't expect others to do his job," said Wygle. "He was never a beggar."

Tokita was a U.S. Army veteran, who retired from the Oahu Sugar Company in Waipahu. 

Investigators continue to look into the cause of the fire. Seelig said the home is a complete loss.

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