Judge: Not guilty
Defendant lost control, did not intentionally drive off cliff that led to twin sister’s death and murder charge
WAILUKU — Saying evidence showed a driver’s hair was being pulled by her passenger to cause her to lose control of a vehicle that went over a cliff near Hana, a judge Thursday found the woman not guilty of second-degree murder in the crash that killed her twin sister.
Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill also acquitted Alexandria Duval, 39, who is also known as Alison Dadow, of a lesser charge of reckless manslaughter in the death of Anastasia Duval, who was also known as Ann Dadow.
“The judge correctly picked up on the fact that the death was not caused by my client,” defense attorney Birney Bervar said after the verdict was announced. “It was her sister that caused the death by interfering with her driving, by pulling her hair. She pulled clumps of hair out of her scalp, causing her to lose control of the vehicle, which led to Anastasia’s death.”
Maui County Prosecuting Attorney John D. Kim said the department respected but was “extremely disappointed” with the court’s decision.
“Alexandria Duval drove the SUV by accelerating up to 40 mph and by turning the steering wheel 288 degrees to the left over a 115-foot cliff while physically fighting with her twin sister,” Kim said. “This was not an accident caused by Ann Dadow’s actions; it was an intentional act by the defendant to end both of their lives.
“The court’s finding that Ann’s yanking of the defendant’s hair to the right caused the defendant to steer the SUV to the left over the cliff defies common sense.
“Furthermore, if the court could not find that this incident was an intentional or knowing act, the court should have found that it was reckless to continue to drive on that narrow roadway during a hair-pulling fight, in disregard of the risk of the cliff just a few feet away. No law-abiding person would continue to drive in that circumstance.”
The crash was reported at 4:42 p.m. May 29, 2016, at Milepost 47.5 on Hana Highway.
Emergency workers made their way down the cliff and found Alexandria Duval pinned in the driver’s seat of the 2016 white Ford Explorer. Anastasia Duval was found dead in the back of the vehicle, which landed on the rocky shoreline.
Shortly before the crash, three Oahu residents who were on a Boy Scout trip reported their Hana-bound van couldn’t pass the white SUV, which was heading in the opposite direction and stopped in the middle of the narrow road with its hazard lights flashing. The van occupants described seeing the passenger pulling the driver’s hair and the driver’s head being pulled to the passenger side of the vehicle.
The hair-pulling continued as the SUV passed the van, the occupants said. Seventeen-year-old Joseph Toleafoa, who was in the van, testified he heard the engine of the SUV rev after it passed, looked back and saw the SUV speed up and jerk to the left off the cliff.
Toleafoa and two adults in the van were among 20 witnesses who testified over three days in the bench trial that began Monday.
Duval had waived her right to a jury trial to have Judge Cahill decide the case.
He announced his verdict Thursday afternoon, about an hour and 15 minutes after attorneys’ closing arguments ended.
Cahill said key evidence came from the testimony of police traffic investigator Justin Mauliola, who saw one or two hairs in Anastasia Duval’s hands and a clump of hair on her chest when he viewed her body at the morgue. The officer testified the hairs weren’t from the dead woman, Cahill said.
“That tells me that during the critical period . . . the deceased pulled her sister’s hair so hard that she could yank it out of her scalp,” Cahill said.
The judge said he found testimony by police Sgt. Lawrence Becraft, a traffic Vehicle Homicide Unit investigator at the crash scene that evening, to be “incredibly credible, believable and accurate.”
“His testimony, though, in some respects, I find to be very supportive of the defense’s case,” Cahill said.
Becraft downloaded data from the SUV’s control data recorder, or “black box,” which recorded steering, acceleration and other measurements five seconds before a “wake up” leading to airbag deployment.
Becraft testified the SUV was accelerating and in a 288-degree left turn off the roadway before going over the cliff.
Rather than a “sudden swerve” to the left, Cahill said evidence, including a police diagram of the scene, “shows a relatively gradual turn.”
“It doesn’t go straight off the cliff,” he said. “It’s a vehicle that’s fishtailing and skidding across the road.”
Cahill said he believed defense accident reconstructionist Wayne Slagle’s opinion that the SUV had been launched into the air after hitting a rock wall, which appeared to have a portion that was washed out.
“There is no evidence that the defendant was aiming toward this hole in the wall,” Cahill said. “The vehicle crashes into the wall . . . and then it’s ramped or launched over the cliff.”
He said there was no evidence that Alexandria Duval knew there was a sheer dropoff at the spot.
“You cannot believe that you could drive off that road 115 feet and survive,” Cahill said. “She did, which is maybe even more miraculous.”
The judge said the cause of the crash “was Ana Duval continuing the fight” after the SUV began moving past the Boy Scout van.
“The defendant lost control of the vehicle,” Cahill said. “Maybe she did input the left turn, but that’s as a result of the evidence that showed her hair being pulled.”
Cahill said he believed “a lot” but not all of the testimony of Federico Bailey, who had been camping in Kipahulu with the sisters the Memorial Day weekend of the crash.
Bailey, who is homeless, said he had met Anastasia Duval 35 days before she died, and she had invited him to live with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend in their Haiku residence.
The judge said Bailey testified about “bizarre episodes” at the campground, including the sisters leaving for four hours the morning of the crash before returning, then leaving again while Bailey remained at the campsite.
The next morning, when the sisters didn’t return to the campsite, Bailey testified he got a ride to Hana, where he learned about the crash. Then he said he hitchhiked back to the Haiku house.
“His conduct after is equally strange,” Cahill said.
Bailey testified he was trying to jump-start his vehicle when Alexandria Duval and her boyfriend returned to the house. Bailey said she asked him to help her shower and wash her hair, which had blood in it, and he did.
After being brought back to Maui from New York to face the murder charge in December 2016, Alexandria Duval was released from jail when $200,000 cash bail was posted for her.
On Thursday afternoon, Judge Cahill said the bail would be returned to the person who posted it.
While on Maui, Duval had received support from her older sister and a friend, said her attorney, Bervar.
“It’s been an extremely emotional ordeal for her,” Bervar said. “You can’t imagine losing your twin sister in that kind of catastrophic, tragic accident, then being charged with causing the death of your sister, which she didn’t.
“She’s extremely relieved.”
Kim offered condolences to Dr. John Dadow, “who did not get the justice his family deserved for the loss of his daughter, Ann Dadow.”
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.