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Event honors teen killed in alleged drunken driving case

Second Hannah Brown memorial held Wednesday

Police traffic commander Lt. William Hankins credits Hannah Brown’s family members, including (from left) her brother Sketch, father Everett and mother Charlene, for helping in the effort to reduce traffic deaths by sharing the loss they suffered when the 19-year-old Wailuku resident was killed in a collision caused by a suspected drunken driver last year. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — The family of a 19-year-old Wailuku woman killed in a suspected drunken-driving crash joined officers at a DUI checkpoint in her name Wednesday night, as police kicked off its holiday impaired driving campaign.

The second annual Hannah Brown Memorial Intoxication Checkpoint, set up near the site of the fatal crash on Kuihelani Highway, provided an opportunity to remember the teenager as well as remind motorists of the consequences of impaired driving.

“She was doing what every single person out there has done,” said police traffic commander Lt. William Hankins. “She was being a 19-year-old with her friends. She was going home. She didn’t do anything wrong and her life was cut short by someone who made a bad decision.”

In acknowledgment of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were masks and social distancing at the checkpoint. Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteers offered goody bags to sober drivers.

“We are honored to join the Maui Police Department in remembering Hannah,” her father, Everett Brown, said in a public service announcement last week. “You can help remember her as well by not driving impaired. If you plan on celebrating this holiday season, please plan ahead.

Maui High School senior Ashanti Ortiz hands a Mothers Against Drunk Driving goody bag to a sober driver as traffic investigator Aaron Williams looks on. The student is doing her senior project on drunk driving. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

“If you got to, call a ride share, cab — anything but get behind the wheel if you’re drinking,” he said in the announcement.

As Everett Brown carried a backpack holding Hannah’s remains, her mother, Charlene Brown, in the announcement talked about the heartache the family has suffered since the June 23, 2019, collision that killed Hannah.

She was a passenger in a 2003 Honda Civic, driven by her 19-year-old boyfriend, that was heading toward Kahului on Kuihelani Highway when it was hit head-on by a 2016 Subaru Forester going the wrong way in the early-morning hours, police said.

Hannah died at the scene of the crash between Mile Markers 4 and 5.

The Subaru driver, 23-year-old Lynsey Jio of Kula, wasn’t injured, police said. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, DUI, excessive speeding and reckless driving in connection with the collision.

“Losing our only daughter has been the worse pain our family has had to feel,” Charlene Brown said in the public service announcement.

She said Hannah would have turned 21 this Sunday. “But for our family, Hannah will always be forever 19,” she said.

Because of the pandemic, plans were canceled for a larger celebration for Hannah. The family will celebrate Thanksgiving and Hannah’s birthday together this year.

“This used to be our family’s most fun weekend,” Charlene Brown said, recalling how they would have a Thanksgiving lunch, then shop from 2 p.m. to 9 a.m. on Black Friday. “We used to have so much fun.”

She and other family members wore shirts with Hannah’s photo for the checkpoint. “It’s awesome that they’re continuing it,” she said.

The stepped-up impaired-driving enforcement will continue through the end of the year, Hankins said.

So far this year, six people have died in traffic crashes on Maui County roads, compared with 22 deaths at the same time last year for a 73 percent reduction.

The number of alcohol- or drug-related fatalities also has declined, from 15 last year to three this year, Hankins said.

Through Wednesday, police made 427 impaired-driving arrests this year, slightly lower than the 450 arrests at the same time last year. While four of the arrests last year were for drivers charged with habitual DUI after two prior DUI convictions, 20 of the arrests this year have been for habitual DUI for a 400 percent increase, Hankins said.

Since mid-January, 277 vehicles have been towed after drivers were arrested for DUI under a new law that was initiated by Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura. Hankins called her the “voice of traffic safety in the county.”

He noted that police DUI arrest numbers have remained about the same, even as the number of tourists dropped to virtually none for much of the year.

“The visitors are just coming back,” he said. “These 427 are people who live here and made the wrong decision.

“If we want to stop fatal crashes in Maui County, we absolutely have to address impaired driving,” he said.

Drivers who are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both have caused the majority of fatal crashes, Hankins said.

When someone consumes alcohol, “the first thing that goes is your judgment,” Hankins said.

“And that’s when people make wrong decisions at the wrong times and they get behind the wheel of a car,” he said. “We need to do more as a community to address these things.

“We can’t enforce our way out of it. We can’t checkpoint our way out of it. People need to make the right decision because once you start drinking, all bets are off.”

Hankins said police were honored to have the Browns participate in the checkpoint for a second year.

“Whenever Charlene and Everett do a public service announcement, it gets incredible response on social media and the DUI numbers actually go down,” he said. “For a little while, somebody turns on the off switch. People kind of wake up a little bit.”

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

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