2 Tongan royal family members killed in crash | TahoeDailyTribune.com

2 Tongan royal family members killed in crash

Terence Chea

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Two royal family members from the South Pacific island nation of Tonga were killed when a teenager racing her car crashed into their sport utility vehicle, authorities said Thursday.

Prince Tu’ipelehake, 56, and Princess Kaimana, 46, died in Wednesday night’s freeway crash in Menlo Park, about 30 miles south of San Francisco, according to Senter Uhilamoelangi, a distant relative and longtime friend of the prince.

Uhilamoelangi, 59, said the couple had arrived in the San Francisco Bay area earlier this week to discuss political reforms in Tonga with members of the region’s Tongan community. Uhilamoelangi, a Tonga native and East Palo Alto resident, helped arrange the visit.

Tu’ipelehake, a nephew of 88-year-old King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, was the leading reformist in the royal family. He was head of a national committee studying democratic reforms for the kingdom.

“His voice we’ll never hear again, but his legacy is going to live on,” Uhilamoelangi said. “He was a good leader because he took the voice of the people all the way to the House of Parliament and carried it all the way to the king.”

The deaths stunned the Tongan community, which was just finishing celebrations of ailing King Tupou IV’s birthday on July 4.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault confirmed that two members of Tonga’s royal family had died in the crash. But he would not release their names until the Tongan government made an official announcement.

A large contingent of family members, friends and government officials traveled from Tonga to Redwood City to assist with the identification of the victims, Foucrault said.

Vinisia Hefa, 36, of East Palo Alto, who was driving the red Ford Explorer carrying the prince and princess, also was killed, the California Highway Patrol said.

Edith Delgado, 18, of Redwood City, allegedly was racing her car at speeds up to 100 mph on a highway in Menlo Park when she tried to pass the SUV the royal couple was traveling in, said highway patrol Officer Ricky Franklin.

Delgado’s car slammed into the driver’s side of the Explorer, causing it to swerve across several lanes before tumbling to a stop on its roof, Franklin said.

Delgado, who was not injured, was jailed on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and engaging in a speed contest, Franklin said.

Tonga – a 170-island archipelago about halfway between Australia and Tahiti – has a population of about 108,000 and an economy dependent on pumpkin and vanilla exports, fishing, foreign aid and remittances from Tongans abroad.

Now the last monarchy in the Pacific, Tonga has been a Polynesian kingdom and a protectorate of Britain, from which it acquired independence in 1970. It is ruled by 88-year-old King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV.

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