Driver in fatal Haleakala crash acquitted by reason of insanity
Defendant rammed vehicle at 127 mph, killing two women
WAILUKU — A woman who ran a red light while speeding uphill on Haleakala Highway to cause a crash that killed two people was acquitted by reason of insanity of murder charges Tuesday.
Ashley Wellman, 34, of Waiehu was ordered to be committed temporarily to the Hawaii State Hospital pending a review hearing Aug. 29.
According to facts presented for her trial, three doctors who examined Wellman found that her mental capacities were “substantially impaired” when the fatal crash occurred at 10:26 a.m. Oct. 8, 2016.
Police said the silver Nissan sedan driven by Wellman was traveling 127 mph when she went through the red light and broadsided a white Toyota truck that was turning left onto the highway from Makani Road.
Pukalani residents Debra Wylie, 63, and her passenger and partner, Traci Winegarner, 57, died at the scene of the crash.
After colliding into the truck, the sedan crossed the centerline and hit a vehicle stopped in traffic, which then hit the vehicle stopped behind it, police said.
Debris, a car engine and car parts were strewn across the highway, and witnesses reported seeing smoke from the collision.
According to a police report on the crash, Wellman acknowledged the traffic light was red while talking with a worker in the emergency room at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Wellman reportedly said she “was originally going up to Haleakala Crater to be at peace” but changed her mind and “just wanted to die.”
Wellman had been charged with first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and excessive speeding.
In acquitting her of the charges Tuesday, 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill said three doctors who conducted psychiatric or psychological examinations of her agreed that she was affected by a physical or mental disease, disorder or defect that substantially impaired her capacity to conform her conduct to the requirements of the law at the time of the crash.
The three doctors also found that Wellman was now mentally fit to proceed in her criminal case. In court Tuesday, Wellman said she is taking four mental health medications, including ones for post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis.
Cahill said the defense had proven the elements of the physical or mental disease, disorder or defect by a preponderance of evidence.
“That requires the court to judge her not guilty,” Cahill said. “She is acquitted of those charges.
“But I am very mindful of the agreement that she did, in fact, cause the death of two people.”
Before making the ruling, Cahill questioned Wellman about waiving her right to a jury trial to have the trial before the judge.
“She is currently under medication that assists her in thinking clearly, and she has advised me she understands what is going on,” Cahill said.
He said the agreed-upon facts presented for her trial included the stipulation that Wellman “intentionally or knowingly” caused the death of two people.
“Regardless of the outcome here this afternoon, two people died,” Cahill said. “And that must be acknowledged and remembered.
“It is agreed to that the defendant caused their death.”
The judge said he reviewed reports by the three doctors who examined Wellman for her mental fitness.
One psychiatrist found that Wellman “was not legally responsible because of substantial psychiatric impairment of cognition and volition,” according to the stipulated facts.
A second doctor said Wellman’s mental capacities “were most likely substantially impaired because of the combination of marijuana use, medication/treatment noncompliance and mental disorders.”
A third doctor found that Wellman’s “cognitive capacities were substantially impaired” as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Wellman, who was arrested in November 2017 after being indicted by a Maui County grand jury, had been jailed since then in lieu of $1 million bail.
With the acquittal, she was ordered to be transferred within 72 hours to the Hawaii State Hospital to be examined by the same three psychiatrists or psychologists on the issue of her risk of danger to herself or others. The doctors also were asked to make recommendations for further care and treatment for Wellman.
Her Aug. 29 review hearing was scheduled as part of the 2nd Circuit Mental Health Court.
Judge Cahill noted that the three doctors’ reports were sealed so they couldn’t be viewed by the public. But he said no court order had been filed to seal the records.
He said the defense, prosecution and public could file submissions in a court order to show cause on unsealing the doctors’ reports.
“Unless there’s good cause, these are going to be unsealed,” Cahill said.
“It does form the basis for acquittal of extremely serious criminal charges, the most serious,” Cahill said. “I think the public has the right to know what is in the reports, at least to some extent.”
Winegarner’s sister Charnan Carroll, who with their younger sister sat through the court proceedings Tuesday, said the family had been kept informed by Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Martin about what was happening in the case.
“Even though we knew it was coming, it’s still heartbreaking,” Carroll said after the hearing Tuesday. “It’s incredibly difficult because it feels like there’s no responsibility being taken. These were two really special ladies that were taken out of our lives.”
Her sister had a housecleaning business, while Wylie had worked as an installer for Oceanic Time Warner Cable and was a few years away from being able to retire.
“They were loved in the community,” Carroll said.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.