WAILUKU - With a Kula man repeatedly saying he had stopped drinking liquor, he was placed on five years' probation for causing a drunken-driving crash that killed his 12-year-old son.
Second Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo warned Scott Ellis that he faces prison if he is caught drinking again or doesn't comply with other court requirements, including performing 300 hours of community service.
"I hear about this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality," Loo said. "A lot of people say you're hardworking, you're a dedicated father."
But other letters to the court said "you're most comfortable with a beer in your hand and when you get a good buzz," Loo told Ellis.
"I don't know which Scott Ellis I'm sentencing today. . . . People have said good and very bad things about you."
Ellis, 45, had pleaded no contest to first-degree negligent homicide in the Nov. 25, 2012, crash.
At about 5:10 p.m. that day, he was driving a 1984 Toyota pickup truck north on Pauwela Lighthouse Road when he swerved to avoid a tire on the dirt roadway and the truck overturned onto its passenger side, police said. Connor Ellis died at the scene.
Scott Ellis' blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.12 percent, above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
"The loss of my son, I will live with that forever," Ellis said in court. "He trusted me. I let him down. It was my fault."
Before the crash, Ellis had been at the beach drinking, said Deputy Public Defender William "Pili" McGrath.
"He probably wasn't the only one there in that condition," McGrath said. "He did have a car crash. He was over the limit, and his lovely little boy was killed."
McGrath said Connor had refused to wear a seat belt because he had heard about the June 2007 crash on the pali that killed 8-year-old Will Smith. "The actual facts are the child was killed by a seat belt," McGrath said, referring to Will Smith's death.
"It's interesting how one tragedy can bleed into another one," McGrath said. "It's very sad."
Both McGrath and Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani asked the judge to follow a plea agreement recommending probation and no jail for Ellis.
"It's a terrible thing whenever a parent outlives their children," Tani said. "It's even more of a tragedy when a parent is responsible for the death of his own child. We thought the fact that defendant killed his own son by his own actions seemed like a severe penalty. That seemed sufficient.
"I'm hoping the defendant did get the message."
In court, friends said that Connor's mother, while no longer with Ellis, has been a very involved parent to both the boy and his now 19-year-old sister.
"I can think of no greater tragedy than a child's death at the hands of his own parent," Loo said. "I'm sure it was unintentional. I'm sure it just happened. I do know that parents are supposed to take care of their children. That's your very being, that's why you were put on this earth."
With some letters to the court saying Ellis had continued to drink and drive, Loo questioned Ellis about the matter.
"Are you still drinking and driving?" she asked.
"No, your honor," Ellis replied.
"You don't drink at all?" Loo asked.
"I do not," he said.
"Well, I guess we will have to wait and see whether that's true or not," Loo said. "I don't know."
Making reference to the organization MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Loo told Ellis, "Maybe you should be the poster boy for FADD, Fathers Against Drunk Driving."
"You can attest to those facts firsthand," Loo said. "Not many people could. There are so many things you could do to memorialize the memory of your child. But the most important thing you can do is not drink and drive.
"You killed your son because of your drinking and driving."
Loo ordered Ellis to attend at least one Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting a week throughout his probation.