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Driver may have been free of alcohol but still drove illegally

He is sentenced to one year in jail

WAILUKU — Although a Kahului man said he stopped drinking alcohol and passed 140 tests over several months to show it, he continued to drive while his driver’s license was revoked for DUI, attorneys said.

On March 12, Manny Sonis, 46, was sentenced to a one-year jail term as part of four years’ probation for habitually driving under the influence of alcohol.

The sentence was imposed after Sonis agreed in November to end his participation in the Maui Drug Court program of intensive treatment and supervision.

Second Circuit Judge Richard Bissen said he believed that Sonis had stopped drinking alcohol, as evidenced by his clean drug and alcohol tests while in the program.

“You’re a good family man. You’ve changed your ways,” Bissen said, referring to a letter from Sonis’ wife. “You’re not that drunk guy that she doesn’t want to be around.

“She likes the new Manny. I like the new Manny. But the new Manny still has part of the old. You’re still trying to sneak by.

“But I have to tell you, it ends today. You got to be honest, even when it hurts.”

Sonis admitted to driving once when he was seen operating a big pickup truck from his house to Drug Court to drop off a document, said his attorney, Elizabeth Cuccia.

He was seen driving three other times by Drug Court staff, Bissen said.

The judge asked why, while Sonis was in Drug Court, he bought a 2019 Ford Ranger when he wasn’t allowed to drive.

“Yes, it was for me,” Sonis eventually replied.

In addition to driving, Sonis had stopped attending support-group meetings and providing documentation required by the program, Bissen said. He said Sonis reported being busy working or doing other activities.

“I give you credit for testing negative,” Judge Bissen told Sonis. “I’m convinced you have stopped drinking.

“But your defiance and your way of thinking that you can continue to drive no matter what a court has told you, no matter what logic tells you, no matter what the law dictates, is troubling to me.”

Court records show Sonis was admitted into the Drug Court program in March 2019, following his arrest Oct. 20, 2017, for habitually driving under the influence of alcohol. The felony charge was brought based on his three or more DUI convictions within the previous 10 years.

Sonis told police he moved to Maui in 2003, said Deputy Prosecutor Kenton Werk.

“The state would contend he’s been a menace on our roadways ever since he got here,” Werk said.

He said Sonis was convicted in a hit-and-run case in July 2004, when he was “just beginning his track record of blatant disregard for our traffic laws.”

In November 2007, Sonis was convicted of drunken driving, lack of due care and not having insurance. His blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.245 percent, about three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent, Werk said. At that level, Werk said it was “unbelievable he could even function, let alone attempt to drive a car.”

Sonis again was convicted of DUI and driving without a license in June 2011, then in August 2017 when he also was convicted of excessive speeding over 81 mph, reckless driving and driving while his license was suspended, Werk said.

Less than two months later, Sonis was arrested in the felony case as a habitual DUI offender, Werk said.

He said then-2nd Circuit Drug Court Judge Joseph Cardoza had talked to Sonis several times about the importance of not driving before he was terminated from the program.

Sonis was found guilty of habitually driving under the influence of alcohol, driving after his license was suspended or revoked for DUI, having an open alcohol container in his vehicle and not having insurance.

While Werk recommended the one-year jail term, Sonis asked for a three-month jail term.

“He did make a huge change to cut alcohol out of his life, to dedicate himself to church, to sobriety and his family,” Cuccia said.

She said Sonis was working three jobs.

“I think Manny felt he would be letting his family down if he wasn’t able to work and support them,” she said. “He couldn’t see that by choosing to do those things, he could ultimately be away from his family for five years. I don’t think he understood the gravity of the situation.

“I hope that this has been a wake-up call, that he cannot put his job, his family, his church, or anything else in front of the requirements of the court.”

Court records show that after his latest arrest, Sonis’ driver’s license was administratively revoked for five years until October 2022.

Sonis was ordered to pay $750 in fines and $826 in fees.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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