In the more than three years since her 16-year-old son was killed in a car crash on Kula Highway, Andrea Maniago has talked to groups of high school students and others, hoping her words might help prevent a tragedy.
"After it happened, I almost felt like I had a duty to tell his story so that some other parent wouldn't have to go through it or some other kids wouldn't have to go through it," she said. "If I could save at least one person's life just by telling this story, then I've done something."
This year, the Wailuku resident was recognized as a youth leader and victim advocate with an outstanding volunteer award from the Hawaii chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
She took on the role soon after her son, Ka'io Fukushima, and 19-year-old Laula Wallace were killed when they and other passengers were ejected from a speeding Honda Civic heading downhill on Kula Highway at about 1:30 a.m. July 5, 2009.
Police said driver Stevens Ramos, 21, lost control, with the car hitting a guardrail on the right shoulder before skidding sideways and spinning across the centerline to hit a portion of guardrail on the uphill shoulder.
Ramos, who was convicted of leaving the scene of the fatal crash, had been at a party where alcohol was served, police said.
Maniago said her son didn't know Ramos, who was sentenced this year to a 10-year prison term.
At the request of Baldwin High School teacher Diane Omura, Maniago began speaking to groups of students at the school where her son was a student, wrestler and football lineman.
A couple of students who knew her son apologized for having to leave when they were overcome by the talk.
After staying for all four sessions when Maniago spoke one year, a girl said she could better understand her own mother's perspective and called her mother during a break to thank her for caring.
Maniago also has spoken to students at St. Anthony Junior Senior High School. And this year, her talk at Kamehameha Schools Maui capped off a student's senior project that included a re-enactment of a car crash and its aftermath.
She said her employer, Easter Seals, where she is activity coordinator, has been accommodating about her volunteer work, which includes speaking at court-ordered DUI education classes for people convicted of drunken driving.
Maniago, who doesn't like speaking before large groups, said she never rehearses what she will say.
"I'll still cry at every single one," she said. "Sometimes when it's back to back, I don't cry as much."
When people think about her son, Maniago said she hopes they remember "how much he loved life."
"He had such a wonderful smile," she said.
"As far as the accident, I would just want anybody and everybody to remember that one bad decision could change your life and somebody else's life forever. Just by making one wrong decision - and his that night was getting into that car."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.