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Drunken drivers may get towed

Bill would allow police to remove vehicles after DUI arrests

Police traffic investigator Jun Hattori conducts field sobriety testing on a driver stopped for suspected drunken driving Nov. 22 on Kuihelani Highway in Kahului. The man was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. The Maui County Council is considering a bill that will allow police to tow the vehicles of people arrested for DUIs. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photos

Those who get arrested for drunken driving may have their vehicles towed on the spot, according to a bill up for first reading before the Maui County Council today.

The bill, which gives police the authority to have motor vehicles towed with owners paying the expense, has the support of Maui police and the county Prosecutor’s Office, along with the council’s Multimodal Transportation Committee, which recommended passage of the bill Dec. 2.

“We support this 100 percent,” said Lt. William Hankins, commander of the police Traffic Section. “This is going to save people’s lives.”

He said the measure will take away the “weapons” from those driving under the influence.

“We need to try to do everything we can to change people’s behavior,” he said.

Police traffic Lt. William Hankins talks with members of Hannah Brown’s family last month at the inaugural Hannah Brown Memorial Intoxication Checkpoint on Kuihelani Highway. From left are Brown’s mother, Charlene, brother Sketch and father, Everett. Hannah Brown was killed in June when her car was hit by a suspected drunk driver on Kuihelani Highway.

Currently, 15 of the 22 traffic deaths this year are alcohol or drug related, Hankins said. That number could rise as more toxicology reports from crashes are completed. He said the ratio of intoxicant-related deaths to all traffic fatalities are about the same as last year.

Multimodal Transportation Committee Chairwoman Yuki Lei Sugimura, with the urging of Maui police and prosecutors, pushed the bill forward.

Sugimura said she was moved by a July rally in Kihei, where the families of 19-year-old Hannah Brown and of 49-year-old Mildred Jouvenat and 14-year-old Jacob Jouvenat, who were killed in alcohol-related crashes this year, gathered together.

Brown was killed in a collision on Kuihelani Highway on June 23. About a month later on July 21 on Piilani Highway, a crash killed both Mildred and Jacob Jouvenat.

The rally was orchestrated by Lokelani Intermediate School students and their school police resource officer; Jacob was a student at the Kihei school.

Sugimura joined with the families, students, police and other government and community officials at the rally. She said something needed to be done.

“This is so sad, it was avoidable,” she said of the crashes Tuesday. “I think drunk driving and killing somebody is avoidable.”

Family and friends also joined with police to establish the inaugural Hannah Brown Memorial Intoxication Checkpoint in November.

If and when the DUI towing bill is passed, Sugimura said she will hold a community meeting so residents can understand the bill and be aware of the consequences. She also will take the information to the Liquor Control Commission, which regulates sales of alcohol.

The bill needs to pass two readings before the council and be signed by Mayor Michael Victorino.

Towing of vehicles would apply to those arrested for:

• Operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant.

• Driving without a license

• Driving while a license is suspended or revoked

• Habitually operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant

• Operating a vehicle after a license has been suspended or revoked for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant

• Operating a vehicle after consuming a measurable amount of alcohol, if under the age of 21

• Fraudulent use of plates, tags, or emblems

The bill is modeled after “Aliyah’s Law,” enacted by Hawaii County in May 2012, in memory of Aliyah Braden, a 17-month-old child from Kailua-Kona, who was killed by a drunken driver, according to a council committee report.

Hankins said the measure is necessary because a person arrested for driving under the influence can bail out of jail, return to his or her vehicle and drive again. The arrest and bail process can take only a couple of hours.

“They are still impaired,” Hankins said.

He said police have seen drivers get arrested twice in a night for driving under the influence. When a person bails out, he or she may take a ride share or taxi or get someone to drive them to their vehicle to retrieve it.

Drivers retain their car keys during the arrest and bail process, he said. Police secure the vehicle where the person was arrested.

Currently, it is the driver’s responsibility to recover the car. But with the bill, those arrested may choose a towing company to haul their vehicle away. If none is available or if the driver waives his or her choice, a company will be selected from a rotating list, Hankins said.

Costs for towing and storage fees could run from $300 to $500, he said.

If the owner does not claim the vehicle within 30 days, the vehicle may be sold or disposed of as junk, according to the bill.

The bill would take effect upon its passage and approval by the mayor, which appears likely.

“I am in full support of this measure to allow police to have a person’s car towed if arrested for driving under the influence,” Victorino said in a email.

He also supports lowering the legal blood alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05, a change the Maui police Traffic Section backs as well.

“Even one preventable death is too many,” the mayor said. “We should do everything possible to keep impaired drivers off our roads.”

Hankins currently is working on rules and training for police regarding the new process. He hopes to have administrative procedures in place within 30 days after the bill passes and is signed into law.

Hankins said he already has contacted towing companies about the bill.

Members of Hankins’ Traffic Section are scheduled to attend today’s special council meeting beginning at 1 p.m. in Council Chambers. If passed, the bill will be up for second and final reading on Dec. 20.

Sugimura hopes the bill is passed this month during “National Impaired Driving Prevention Month.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.