WAILUKU - A man who drove a pickup truck toward people in a Kihei neighborhood last year has been acquitted of criminal charges based on reports that his mental capacity was substantially impaired at the time.
Michael F. Evangelista, 40, of Paia was committed to the director of the state Department of Health after being found not guilty Tuesday of charges of second-degree assault, three counts of first-degree terroristic threatening, second-degree criminal property damage, two counts of fourth-degree criminal property damage, driving without a license and reckless driving.
His attorney, Graham Mottola, said that a Health Department plan calls for Evangelista to undergo residential drug treatment, followed by intensive outpatient treatment. He will continue to be monitored, with dates set for him to return to court, Mottola said.
"Simply incarcerating Michael Evangelista for an additional period of time would just result in him being released without getting the treatment he needs," Mottola said after the hearing. "But he's now going to be getting the treatment he needs before he's released, which is what everyone agrees is best for the community at large.
"It's a good program to get him back into the community with safeguards for the community, as well as Michael himself."
Evangelista was arrested after reports that he drove a pickup that a witness said knocked over light poles and a sign and appeared to be "chasing people down" on Walaka Street the night of July 22. Two men and a pregnant woman said they had to run to avoid being hit by the truck. A man reported being stabbed on the lower left side of his stomach when he approached the driver to tell him to slow down.
In court Tuesday, 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza found that the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Evangelista committed the acts outlined in the nine charges. The judge also found that by a preponderance of evidence, the defense proved that Evangelista had a mental disease, disorder or defect excluding him from penal responsibility.
The finding was based on reports by three psychiatrists or psychologists who were ordered by the court to examine Evangelista for mental fitness and concluded that he lacked the mental capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions.
Mottola said the three professionals agreed that Evangelista lacked the mental capacity required for the offenses "due to acute symptoms of Xanax withdrawal."
Evangelista had been prescribed the drug, which is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, and became addicted to it, Mottola said. He said Evangelista was "in a blackout" at the time of the offenses.
Mottola said other clients have had problems after being legally prescribed Xanax. "I don't think its benefits outweigh its addictive qualities," Mottola said.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.