Jury takes less than an hour to convict man in road rage case

WAILUKU — A man who said he had been cut off while driving before he followed and punched another driver was convicted Wednesday in a road rage case.

Joaquin Manaois, 70, of Wailuku was found guilty as charged of first-degree unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle and third-degree assault.

A 2nd Circuit Court jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning the verdicts.

The confrontation occurred the morning of Jan. 8 as Manaois was driving to church Upcountry with his 10-year-old granddaughter, and Wailuku resident Alexander Loria was driving to work in Kahului.

Manaois “let his anger, his emotions and his temper get the best of him,” Deputy Prosecutor Annalisa Bernard Lee said in her closing arguments to jurors Wednesday morning.

Loria, a 56-year-old sign-maker, testified he had been thinking about stopping at Whole Foods and switched into the right lane on East Kaahumanu Avenue before changing his mind and merging back into the lane that continued on as the road turned into Hana Highway.

“Just as I was making the sweeping turn, I heard a beep,” Loria said.

He said he could see that the driver behind him, later identified as Manaois, was “animated.”

“I’m thinking, ‘What happened?’ There was no close call,” Loria said.

He said he turned his Nissan Pathfinder right onto Wakea Avenue and Manaois followed in a dark blue Lexus sport utility vehicle, pulling up in the left-turn lane next to Loria when he stopped at a red light at Alamaha Street. “I put my window down and said, ‘What?’ “ Loria said.

After getting no response and seeing the light turn green, Loria said he continued past Alamaha Street before Manaois drove in the oncoming lane to speed past Loria and pull in front of him at a 45-degree angle.

Loria said a couple of cars were behind him, and he couldn’t go around Manaois’ vehicle. Loria had his engine running and seat belt on when Manaois walked up and Loria rolled down his window. “I just basically looked at him and said, ‘What?’ kind of sarcastic,” Loria said. “That’s when he said I was in the wrong lane at Whole Foods.

“I sarcastically said, ‘So?’ He said, ‘My 10-year-old granddaughter’s in the car.’ And I said, ‘Why are you driving like a f—ing maniac?’

“He kind of looked around and shoved me in the left shoulder. I said, ‘Don’t touch me’ and pushed him back.”

Manaois had stepped back, Loria said, before “suddenly, I got the first hit.”

“I didn’t see it coming,” Loria said. “As soon as he hit me, I just ducked and it was nonstop.”

Loria estimated he was hit 10 to 15 times in the ear, head and neck for three to five seconds. When he said he was calling the police, “then it stopped,” Loria said.

He said the Bluetooth in his ear was broken and he was bleeding.

Loria got the license plate number of the vehicle as Manaois drove away. Police located Manaois later that morning.

Manaois, who testified in his defense, said he was calm as he got out of his car to talk with Loria because he was concerned about the safety of his granddaughter and other drivers on the road.

“Mr. Loria responds with sarcasm, disrespect and most of all violence,” Deputy Public Defender Zach Raidmae said in his closing arguments.

Contradicting Loria’s account, Manaois testified that he was shoved by Loria first before punching him four times.

Raidmae said Manaois was defending himself when he punched Loria.

“Mr. Manaois was only going there to talk,” Raidmae said. “He would have never hit Mr. Loria unless he had been pushed first.”

Even if Loria had pushed first, Manaois’ actions didn’t amount to self-defense, Bernard Lee said.

“Mr. Manaois is the one who followed Alexander,” she said. “Mr. Manaois is the one who stopped his vehicle in the middle of the road, forcing Alexander to stop. Mr. Manaois is the one who got out of his car, came right up to Alexander’s window at least an arm’s length away, which is very close, very intimidating.”

Bernard Lee said Manaois appeared to be “a very nice and likable person” who served his country.

“Mr. Manaois is not a bad person, but he did make bad choices and decisions that day,” she said. “It’s not OK for someone to behave this way, especially on our roads where we’re driving with our families.”

Deputy Prosecutor Jeffery Temas assisted Bernard Lee in the trial.

Manaois is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 18.

Judge Rhonda Loo presided over the trial, which began Monday.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.