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Officer says she jumped to get out of way of vehicle

Attempted murder charge upheld against SUV driver

WAILUKU — Maui police officer Nichole Paclib heard a white BMW sports utility vehicle’s engine rev up then saw the vehicle “accelerating backward in reverse.”

The driver, Marcus Ruggiero, continued looking straight at her even as his vehicle reversed into a Mini Cooper behind it in the middle of Kula Highway near Omaopio Road.

“He continued to look straight at me, even after the collision occurred. He did not look back or to the left or right, he just looked directly at me, even after the collision occurred,” Paclib said during a preliminary hearing Friday in Wailuku District Court.

As she saw the collision, she then drew her weapon and loudly said: ” ‘Please stop, stop, please.’ ”

“I heard the engine rev again, and the vehicle accelerated forward, directly at me,” Paclib said.

She did not fire her weapon, fearing bullets could hit people in the Mini Cooper. As the SUV moved toward her from around 10 feet away, Paclib said she moved out of the way and jumped to her right.

Asked by Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani what she thought would have happened if she didn’t jump out of the way, Paclib said: “I wouldn’t be here. I would have been either killed or critically injured. I would have been struck by the vehicle.”

Judge Blaine Kobayashi ruled there was probable cause to support the first-degree attempted murder charge against Ruggiero, who also is charged with third-degree criminal property damage, disobedience to police officers and reckless driving in the incident on Aug. 16.

His initial appearance in Circuit Court is set for Sept. 30. Kobayashi continued bail at $250,000.

Deputy Public Defender Zach Raidmae argued for a bail reduction to $75,000, noting that Maui police set bail with a felony criminal property damage charge, which has since been reduced. He said Ruggiero now faces only one felony, two misdemeanors and one petty misdemeanor charge.

Tani said that bail should be maintained, arguing that Ruggiero “is a danger to the community.” From July 30 to Aug. 16, Ruggiero refused to stop his vehicle for police 16 times with some cases involving high speed chases, he said.

In her testimony, Paclib said she arrived on scene along Kula Highway near Omaopio Road around 1:15 a.m. after being dispatched for a reckless driver case. She saw the white SUV parked in the middle of Kula Highway with its headlights off but parking lights on.

She parked her vehicle in a position to act as a buffer and be visible for cars arriving in the area. From her police car, she illuminated the SUV and saw the driver, Ruggiero, with whom she was familiar.

As she approached to around 20 feet, Paclib saw Ruggiero notice her. She said she heard the vehicle engine rev and saw it move into reverse.

During cross examination, Raidmae asked Paclib about her body camera, which recorded her speaking to the occupants of the Mini Cooper but not the incident with Ruggiero.

Paclib responded that she did not have the “whereabouts” to activate the camera until the scene was under control and everyone was calmed down. Raidmae asked Paclib what it takes to turn on the camera; she said it requires a tap of a button and could take a few seconds.

In response to a question from Raidmae, Paclib she did think about discharging her weapon as the vehicle came toward her and said that firing her weapon would have been justified.

In the end, Raidmae said Paclib did not shoot and the vehicle did not hit her. “You didn’t need to shoot him to save your life,” he said.

Paclib said it was by her own actions and reactionary efforts that saved her life.

Raidmae also asked if Paclib could see the SUV’s tires or the steering wheel when she jumped of the way. She said no.

“I’m basically having an oh sh– moment,” she said. “I’m looking at Mr. Ruggiero in the vehicle pass me to the left as I jump to the right.”

She said if she took a step or two to her left, the vehicle’s mirror would have clipped her weapon. She said she had to move the length of her extended arm and a little more to get out of the way.

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

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