Birthday Surprise Turned Fatal Tragedy

It is alleged the 61-year-old driver, Mr Cokanacagi, lost control of the vehicle, causing it to veer into the opposite lane and collide with a bus carrying 26 passengers. 
06 Nov 2023 14:55
Birthday Surprise Turned Fatal Tragedy
The car wreck parked at the Sigatoka Police Station. The three passengers who were killed in the accident are Asesela Wata Cokanacagi (inset/from top left), Meresiana Cokanagi (inset/bottom left) and Jonacani Nawainiqila (inset right).

The anticipation of a birthday surprise turned into mourning for Lepani Turagatolu and his family after receiving the devastating news of a horrible car accident at Lomaiwai, Sigatoka, last Saturday afternoon.

The accident claimed the lives of Mr Turagatolu’s nephew, Jonacani Nawainaqila, as well as his uncle Asesela Wata Cokanacagi and aunt Meresiana Cokanacagi.

According to Police, the tragedy unfolded as the three were travelling in a rental car to Nadi.

It is alleged the 61-year-old driver, Mr Cokanacagi, lost control of the vehicle, causing it to veer into the opposite lane and collide with a bus carrying 26 passengers.

The collision resulted in the loss of three lives and left the bus driver and 22 passengers hospitalised.

Police stressed the importance of drivers getting adequate rest and adhering to speed limits to prevent such tragic accidents as investigations into the incident continue.


The painful wait

Mr Turagatolu said they had prepared a surprise birthday celebration on Saturday for his nephew, Jonacani Nawainaqila.

“He was coming back from a wedding with his uncle and aunt. His parents were also present at that wedding in Lami,” Turagatolu said.

“My nephew didn’t know that we were in contact with his parents to prepare a birthday surprise for him.”

“Everything had been set up as we knew they had left Sigatoka. While we were waiting, his parents had reached home first.

“His mother kept telling us about the horrific incident they had encountered in Lomawai. We didn’t know it was him.

“We enjoyed the moments with his parents, and a few hours later, we received a call from Suva relaying the tragic news of his death.


“That expectation turned into mourning. It really hurts us so much.”

He shared they had taken Jonacani’s uniform the morning after his passing, and the family cried over it.

“We miss him so much. This nephew is like a son to us,” he said.

“When he came here and stayed with us, one thing that we learned from him was the connection and relationship with people.

“He connects us to them. This house is always full when he is here. That was the kind of heart he has.”

Mr Nawainaqila, originally from Lekutu, Bua, was on probation at the Raffles Gateway Hotel in Nadi and lived with his uncle and the family at the TFL quarters in Lautoka.

Asesela Wata Cokanacagi, a former FijiFirst Party candidate and former General Manager Operations at Fiji Pine Group, was another victim.


His wife, Meresiana Cokanacagi, was the third victim. The couple had three children living and working in England.

Speaking from England, their daughter, Sokoveti Wata, remembered the last conversation she had with her parents.

“I had paid for their accommodation to spend a night in the hotel, and they were happy about it,” she said.

“After my father’s retirement, my parents were always closer together.

“Our house is always full of people because of their big hearts.


“My dad is a good singer and a very hardworking man, and so is my mom. It is hard for us to come back to Fiji without them.”

As Fiji’s road death toll continues to rise, Police have expressed concern about the daily bookings for speeding offenses.

Drivers are urged to take road safety advisories seriously, especially during the festive season, to prevent further loss of life.

The current road death toll stands at 68, compared to 37 for the same period last year. ”



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