‘I Don’t Want to Die Here’
Teri Waros grateful for support after close call
There’s a cast on her arm and she has six broken ribs… but there’s a smile on her face as friends, well wishers and visitors to the island pour into her store. Teri Waros, owner of Kalele Bookstore in Kaunakakai, is back at work and lucky to be alive after falling 150 feet down the cliff near the Kalaupapa Lookout on Aug. 2.
For hours, she clung to a root, just above the sheer, vertical drop off of the sea cliffs and ocean 2,000 feet below.
“It got scary. I looked down and I could see the water below me and I thought, ‘Oh, this doesn’t look good,” she recalls. “It’s probably the first time I looked at the ocean and said that. At one point, I said out loud, ‘I don’t want to die here.'”
It all started with Waros’ routine, morning walk to the lookout with her two dogs, RC and Honey Girl.
“RC likes to do his business on the edge,” she laughs. “I always tease him about it, I call it ‘poop with a view.’ He must have got a whiff of a deer and I didn’t let go fast enough. He went one way and I went the other.”
For Waros, the other way meant falling down the steep, treed incline at the top of the famed Molokai sea cliffs. She says she slid, then would try to get up, tumble and slide some more. Her fall ended just inches from certain death.
“I’m literally holding onto a root,” she says, thinking back to those hours. “There’s a ledge then it slowly slopes down and keeps getting more steep then all of a sudden, it’s vertical. A tree was above me and a root stuck out and I had both hands around it. I was stepping on a tree stump. I was trying to get a toe hold with the other foot and I was digging it into dirt that was falling away.”
Waros says she had no sense of time but must have been clinging to the root for a few hours.
Meanwhile, her friend PF Bentley and his dog, Ehu Girl, had gone to her house to visit her. With her car gone, he thought to check the lookout.
“Her car was there and RC was lying on the concrete by her car, with only his leash,” Bentley wrote in a Facebook post about the incident. “I knew something was not right. Where was Teri and her other dog, Honey Girl?”
He and Ehu Girl walked to the lookout, to Phallic Rock, then back to the lookout, but couldn’t find Waros. When they continued a bit past the lookout area, Ehu stopped at a spot on the ledge, sniffing the air pointedly, said Bentley. He knew she must be on to something.
“I could not see below due to the overhanging ledge,” he writes. “Ehu Girl did not want to leave the scene. I had to pull her away back to the parking lot.”
That’s when Molokai resident and retired firefighter Bobby Alcain pulled up to take a walk. Bentley told him his suspicions about Waros, and Alcain immediately sprang into action, drove down to where there was cell reception and called the fire department.
Firefighters arrived on the scene at 1:50 p.m.
“A friend of the victim had brought their dog with them, and apparently, this dog led rescuers directly to a location on the trail where the victim would be spotted approximately 150 feet down a very steep incline,” said Maui Fire Department spokesperson Rylan Yatsushiro.
“Teri is one of my closest friends on Molokai and I told myself she had to be okay; there couldn’t be another ending,” writes Bentley. “I couldn’t have loved Ehu Girl more than that moment. She was just incredible.”
Firefighters used ropes and a pulley system to rig a rescue bucket and rappel down to Waros. By the time they reached her, she’d been there eight hours, according to Bentley.
“When I said out loud, ‘I am not going to die here,’ it came from a place of, ‘Oh, I could die here,'” she recalls. “It was shortly after that, I heard someone calling my name. It was the firefighters.”
Waros says she was oblivious to her pain or injuries until she was being lifted up by the rescue crews. She had a broken arm and shoulder blade, six broken ribs and “not a part of my body that’s not covered with bruises.”
She was taken to Molokai General Hospital then flown out to Queen’s on Oahu, where she stayed for four days. She got so many calls from well-wishers that the nurses were “aghast,” Waros says, calling the love and outpouring she’s received “overwhelming.”
While she was in the hospital, her friend Betts Cruz set up Facebook and GoFundMe fundraisers to help cover Waros’ medical bills. Friends, community members and people she’s never even met raised more than $20,000 in a matter of days.
“It’s just absolutely amazing,” Waros says. “I’m beyond grateful. The outpouring… I just start to cry, my heart just can’t absorb it all.”
It’s a story with a happy ending, and Bentley refers to the “cosmic events” that led to her rescue.
“I shudder to think what could have happened [if the chain of events had not taken place that day]…” he writes. “But I live on Molokai, where wonderful cosmic events happen everyday; however this time I’m a true believer that someone does have our backs, only I realized that fateful day that someone is all of us.”
Waros says she’s forever grateful to Bentley, Ehu Girl, Alcain, the firefighters, and the series of miracles that saved her life.
“You do feel dumb,” she says of her fall. “I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it but if someone can find hope from the story, I guess it’s worth telling.”
Along with the people in her rescue story, she has words of praise for the canines involved.
“All the dogs knew exactly what their job was,” she says. In addition to hero of the day Ehu Girl, RC and Honey Girl also played their role.
Waros says Honey Girl kept her company the whole day after carefully making her way down the slope to a ledge above her owner.
“She would not leave me,” Waros says. “It gave me company, I wasn’t alone. It was love and comfort.”
As the firefighters lifted Waros up, it was Alcain who helped Honey Girl back up the steep slope.
“Even RC — who started it all but I still love him — had the sense to go lay by the car where PF saw him,” she says.
Yes, Waros says she will keep walking to the Kalaupapa Lookout with her dogs once she heals. But one thing will change.
“No more poop with a view!”