Woman killed in fireworks explosion remembered as ‘kind, fun-loving and dependable’

Keoki Medeiros, left, and Liona Spencer (Photo courtesy Grace Family)

Kind, fun-loving and dependable — that’s how family and friends remember the woman killed from an illegal fireworks explosion shortly after midnight New Year’s Day.

A makeshift memorial was set up at the scene on Komohana Street at Campbell Industrial Park for the 38-year-old victim Liona Spencer. A family representative confirmed that Spencer died from her injuries.

Another explosion victim, 36-year-old Keoki Medeiros, was the other victim who was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

The Grace family says Spencer and Medeiros were longtime partners. The two worked for the family towing business and dedicated their lives to raising two children together.

In a statement released Monday, the Grace ohana said in part:

This is a difficult time for us as Liona was not only an integral part of our companies but our family as well. … She graduated from Waipahu High School and attended Heald College for a career in the travel industry. She came to work for us in the late ’90s and helped to develop and grow our companies from the ground up.

During that time, she and Keoki raised two wonderful children while being involved in every aspect of the business, from the simplest tasks to the greatest, whether it was answering phones or running a full-scale operation.

As a daughter, sister, mother and partner, family meant everything to her. She was known for cracking jokes, being reliable under pressure, and being a caring and kind person.

Liona was our everything. … She will be greatly missed. … Although Liona died from a tragic accident, she did so after living a vibrant life full of amazing moments, having left an indelible impression upon everyone that she met.

Police say she and Medeiros were lighting fireworks at the time of the explosion.

On Monday, the man behind the major New Year’s Eve fireworks shows in Waikiki and Aloha Tower Marketplace says aerial fireworks illegally obtained by consumers are the same ones used by professionals. Trained pyrotechnicians like himself, however, follow strict safety measures.

“When we fire on land, we’ll be inside a plywood hut hundreds of feet away from the actual effects that are going off,” said Thomas Likos of Fireworks by Grucci.

Professional grade aerial fireworks aren’t ignited by hand, but instead by an electronic fuse. “The consumers are not using professional grade equipment and they are not electrically firing them, so they are right next to the effect,” said Likos, “so should something go wrong with it, somebody could get injured.”

Even with the obvious danger and the fact that aerials are illegal, hundreds, if not thousands of them, were fired off across Oahu on New Year’s Eve.

City Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro says cracking down on illegal aerial fireworks can be challenging.

“It’s always difficult preventing any kind of contraband or illegal products from coming to Hawaii,” he said, “because we have a very liberal search-and-seizure.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said police have to catch people in the act “just like they actually have to see speeding before they can give you a ticket.

“My request as mayor is to please enjoy fireworks, get your permit, set off your brand,” he said, “but these illegal explosives and aerials are just dangerous for everyone and I wish everyone would follow the law.”

According to Honolulu police, no arrests or citations have been issued in this case.

Keoki Medeiros, left, and Liona Spencer (Photo courtesy Grace Family)
Keoki Medeiros, left, and Liona Spencer (Photo courtesy Grace Family)

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