Deaths on Maui highways: ‘We’re mad because they’re preventable’
Too many lives being lost on roads, traffic commander says; rally held Friday
Mildred Jouvenat was driving her 14-year-old son to pick up his younger brother in Kihei.
Texas resident Teresa Pham was going to the airport with family members after a vacation.
Nineteen-year-old Wailuku resident Hannah Brown was on her way home with her boyfriend.
The four were killed in three recent traffic crashes on Maui when drivers who had been drinking alcohol crossed left of center to collide with other vehicles, police said.
“There are too many innocent lives being taken for senseless reasons,” said Lt. William Hankins, commander of the police Traffic Section, on Tuesday. “We’re mad because they’re preventable. People make these decisions and put everybody at risk.
“The community is upset and rightfully so.”
About 300 people, including family and friends of Brown and the Jouvenats, joined police officers, prosecutors and Mothers Against Drunk Driving advocates for a sign-waving event against drunken driving Friday afternoon along Piiliani Highway near Lipoa Street in Kihei.
Hannah Brown’s mother, Charlene, said she and other family members were excited to be part of the event.
“We need to bring more awareness to drunk driving,” she said. “People need to be more vigilant.”
Dave Jouvenat, who lost his wife and older son in the collision last weekend, said he didn’t want to see another family affected by a drunken driver.
“It is preventable,” he said.
With alcohol and drugs determined to be factors in two-thirds of fatal and near-fatal traffic crashes this year, police set up yet another DUI checkpoint Friday night.
Police DUI Task Force officers, along with other traffic officers, are working extra hours and on their usual days off to increase enforcement “to aggressively take on this epidemic,” said DUI Task Force Sgt. Nick Krau on Tuesday.
“We’re committed to our community,” said Krau, who joined fellow traffic officers at the sign-waving. “We’re committed to saving lives.”
Traffic deaths on Maui County roads have increased by 40 percent this year, with 14 people killed in 13 fatal crashes so far. At the same time last year, 10 people had been killed in eight fatal collisions.
Including two near-fatal collisions, police traffic investigators have been called on to investigate 15 crashes this year.
Police said alcohol was a factor in eight of the crashes, drugs were a factor in two crashes, and speed contributed to six collisions. In four cases, victims were not wearing seat belts.
The statistics could change, as investigations continue.
Hankins said police are doing what they can to try to prevent roadway deaths, making 301 arrests for impaired driving, three arrests for habitual DUI and six arrests for impaired driving under age 21 through Tuesday this year.
Sixty-six of those arrests were made at 73 roadblocks, where police screened 6,176 vehicles.
Through Tuesday this year, 315 cases for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant have been forwarded to the prosecutor’s office, which has obtained convictions in 154 cases. Prosecution was declined in 10 cases, and there weren’t convictions in five cases. Another 146 cases are pending.
“What we’re seeing is an increase of arrests, an increase of convictions,” said Maui County Prosecuting Attorney Don Guzman. “But there’s no decrease of offenders that are going out there drinking and driving.”
He said the prosecutor’s office supports changes in the DUI law that took effect July 1 to increase fines and other penalties for convictions.
Drivers now face a felony habitual DUI charge, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, if they’re arrested for DUI after having two prior DUI convictions within 10 years. Under the previous law, a felony DUI charge could be brought against someone with three prior DUI convictions in 10 years.
A vehicle owned and operated by a habitual DUI offender may be forfeited under the new law.
“We are going to have a bright line on making sure that anyone who offends is going to be accountable,” Guzman said. “We’re not going to give any breaks for a habitual driver.
“Our office is going to prosecute to the full extent of the law.”
Hankins said he would like to see DUI offenders be required to observe police officers notifying family members after someone is killed in a fatal DUI collision.
Most people don’t know what that’s like “until you got to go knock on someone’s door and let them know a loved one’s not coming home,” Hankins said.
“That’s heartbreaking,” he said. “You may never drink again. The impact this causes is unbelievable.”
On July 21, some police traffic investigators were still at the Wailuku Police Station after leaving the scene of a near-fatal collision at 12:15 p.m. on Haleakala Highway in Kula when a fatal collision was reported at 7:24 p.m. in Kihei.
The crash on Piilani Highway north of Welakahao Road occurred when a gray 2008 Ford F150 pickup truck that was traveling north crossed left of center and collided head-on into a white 2016 Nissan Versa, which was in the inner southbound lane, police said. The impact pushed the Nissan backward into a white 2016 Ford Focus that was traveling in the outer southbound lane, police said.
Mildred Jouvenat, a 49-year-old Kihei resident who was driving the Nissan, died at the scene of the crash. Her 14-year-old son, Jacob, who was a passenger in the car, was transported to Maui Memorial Medical Center with life-threatening injuries.
The pickup truck driver, a 43-year-old Kihei man, suffered serious injuries and was transported to the hospital, then later medevaced to Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu, police said.
The 74-year-old Kihei woman driving the Ford Focus was treated for minor injuries at the hospital and released, police said.
Jouvenat had been driving her older son to pick up her 11-year-old son from a friend’s house in Maui Meadows when the collision occurred.
“It could have been anyone,” said Krau, who happened to be in Kihei and came upon the crash site about five minutes after the collision.
Later that night, as traffic investigators continued working at the scene, Krau went to the Jouvenat home to tell family members she had died.
After telling her husband and mother about the crash, Krau also explained to the 11-year-old boy what happened.
“I told him his mom died,” Krau said. “I said, ‘Your brother’s in the hospital. He’s hurt really bad, but he’s alive.’
“He was crying, then he stopped. And he said, ‘At least my brother’s alive.’ ”
“And now we find out he doesn’t even have that,” Hankins said.
Fourteen-year-old Jacob Jouvenat died of his injuries the next day at the hospital.
Krau said the boys were close.
“He lost his only brother — his big brother — and his mom,” he said.
Just before Krau left the family’s house that night, the boys’ father “kept thanking me over and over,” Krau said.
“He hugged me and he was crying. He said, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, sir?’ ”
The father replied, “Your job. You have a hard job. I don’t know how you do it.”
About a month earlier, officers went to another family’s home after another head-on collision in the early-morning hours of June 23.
Hannah Brown, who died at the scene, was a passenger in a 2003 Honda Civic driven by her 19-year-old boyfriend. The car was heading toward Kahului on Kuihelani Highway near Waikapu Stream Bridge when it was hit by a 2016 Subaru Forester that was traveling in the Lahaina direction in the wrong lane, police said.
A 23-year-old Kula woman driving the Subaru wasn’t injured. She was arrested for investigation of first-degree negligent homicide and DUI before being released pending further investigation.
When Hankins told family members about Brown’s death, “one brother was literally in shock,” he said.
“It’s so numbing to them,” he said. “It’s something they’re never going to forget.”
While the driver in that crash was arrested, the Kihei pickup truck driver wasn’t arrested because he is undergoing medical treatment for the injuries he sustained in the collision, Hankins said.
Investigating the crash
Sgt. Kenneth Kihata, who heads the Vehicle Homicide Unit of the police Traffic Section, said investigators want to be sure an investigation is complete before forwarding it to the prosecutor’s office, which reviews the case and determines charges.
“Once you charge them, you have to be ready to go,” Kihata said. “You don’t want to rush these.”
Part of the initial investigation involves documenting the crash scene, which can be spread out.
In the three-vehicle crash in Kihei on July 21, Kihata said the scene continued 75 yards on either side of the impact point.
The June 23 crash scene on Kuihelani Highway was about two football fields long.
And a three-vehicle fatal crash at 9:22 p.m. June 16 on Haliimaile Road was about three football fields long, police said.
In that collision, a silver Honda Accord four-door sedan was traveling northeast on Haliimaile Road when it crossed left of center and collided with the driver’s side of a silver Land Rover Discovery sport utility vehicle that was heading in the opposite direction, police said. After sideswiping the Land Rover, the Honda continued left of center to collide head-on with a gray Nissan four-door sedan, police said.
Teresa Pham, 39, who was a passenger in the Nissan, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. Four others in the Nissan were transported to the hospital with injuries. They had been on the way to the airport when the crash occurred.
A 23-year-old Paia woman who was driving the Honda was transported to the hospital in critical condition. Her driver’s license had been revoked for a prior drunken crash, police said.
“Fatal crashes happen in milliseconds,” Hankins said. “Investigations take months and months because there’s so much data.”
In addition to collecting every piece of evidence from the crash scene, Hankins said investigators must obtain warrants to get crash data from “black boxes” in vehicles.
Police can extract the information from some of them. But in some cases, including the June 23 crash, the black box has to be sent with a request to the manufacturer to have information extracted, Kihata said.
“We’ve got one shot to do this right, and the family deserves the absolute best,” Hankins said.
“The public sees it as just another DUI crash, but to us it’s not,” he said. “Every family deserves the same amount of attention for their crash.”
“Every crash takes a little bit of something out of all of us as a team,” Hankins said. “These guys are investigating this every single day. They’re reliving every moment of these crashes every single day.”
Prosecutors also relive the crashes while working with family and friends of victims as criminal cases make their way through court.
“The police are doing what we can. The prosecutors are doing what they can,” Hankins said. “We stand united. When we catch you, you’re going to be prosecuted.
“But the community needs to step up and help us out.”
While some people have pointed to the roadway design as a factor in the Kihei crash, Hankins said, “I don’t think Piilani Highway is a dangerous highway.”
“I think people are making dangerous decisions with speeding and alcohol use and creating dangerous environments,” he said. “It’s not the highway that’s causing the problems. It’s poor decisions.”
Deputy Prosecutor Byron Fujieda appealed to drivers “to drive responsibly and to be aware of consequences of their actions.”
“By driving impaired, you not only affect the people you may have an impact with, you also hurt their family members and community at large,” he said.
“We’ve been taking a stand against drunk driving since the beginning of time,” Fujieda said. “We just need the community’s support to take a stand with us.”
Hankins said people can call police to report drunken drivers and call taxis or ride-sharing services for people who are too intoxicated to drive. He said some people have turned in the keys of drunken drivers to police so the owners can pick the keys up at the police station the next day when they’re sober.
People who think DUI or other laws aren’t strong enough can call their legislators to advocate for change, Hankins said.
“Do something,” he said. “Because doing nothing is going to cost somebody their life.”
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.