Road rage on road to Hana leads to jail

The Maui News

WAILUKU — An eight-day jail term was ordered for a man who reached into a rental car and punched a tourist after a confrontation at a one-lane bridge on the road to Hana last year.

Spencer Powell, 23, of Wailuku said he “lost it” after he was spit on by the tourist, whose gum landed in the hair of Powell’s girlfriend as she sat in the passenger seat.

“I just can’t say enough how sorry I am,” he said in court Wednesday. “I know I probably ruined his vacation.”

Deputy Prosecutor Jeffery Temas said there was no mention of gum-spitting in accounts by Pennsylvania resident Gagan Tayal, who reported seeing a sports utility vehicle speeding toward him after he had stopped before driving onto the bridge at Mile Marker 23 at about 5 p.m. April 12, 2017. Tayal said the other driver was yelling, but the tourist wasn’t able to immediately reverse because of other cars and pedestrians in the area, Temas said.

“This defendant became enraged,” Temas said. 

When Tayal eventually backed up to let Powell pass on the bridge, change was thrown at the tourist’s rental car, Temas said.

While Powell headed in the opposite direction, the visitor continued driving his family toward Hana. About 10 minutes later, Tayal had pulled over on the side of the road because one of his grade-school daughters was carsick, Temas said. He said Powell drove up behind the rental car, yelled obscenities, got out of his vehicle and punched the tourist in the face under his left eye.

Then Powell went back to his vehicle, got a bottle of sports drink and threw it at the rental car, Temas said.

“We have all heard of road rage,” 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo said in sentencing Powell. “This is the first time I’ve heard of bubble gum rage. I have two very, very different stories about what happened.”

Referring to the gum-spitting, Loo said, “Maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t.”

“I do know in order for you to track down Mr. Tayal, you had to turn around,” Loo said. “And to turn around in Hana on those narrow roads, it did take some effort.” 

Powell had pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle, as well as third-degree assault.

Loo said she took into consideration letters saying that what happened was out of character for Powell and his lack of a prior record, in giving him a chance to keep the convictions off his record if he stays out of trouble for one year.

“In his mind, he was just trying to protect his woman,” said defense attorney Gina Gormley. “This has been a learning experience for him. He went from being upset to being extremely remorseful.

“He knows he should have driven off.”

In addition to yelling obscenities, Powell told Tayal to “go back to India,” Temas said.

“That’s disturbing,” he said.

Temas said the 46-year-old Tayal works for a software company and is also a college professor and volunteer fireman.

Powell was identified as the driver after one of Tayal’s daughters got the license plate number of the vehicle, which was registered to Powell’s girlfriend. Through Facebook, police were able to identify Powell, Temas said.

Judge Loo told Powell that if he had been thinking about the safety of his girlfriend that day, “you should have let it go.”

“You didn’t have to turn around,” she said. “You didn’t have to confront him. You didn’t have to punch him. You didn’t have to damage his vehicle.

“I don’t think this was a hate crime. I think it was just you being hot-headed. This should not have escalated to this point.”

Powell was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and to complete anger management classes. He was ordered to write letters apologizing to Tayal, his wife and their 11- and 12-year-old daughters.

Powell previously paid $920 in restitution for damage to the driver’s side door of the rental car.

He was given credit for three days he previously spent in jail.