Recruits trained to recognize impaired drivers
Lessons ‘hit home’ as family recalls night daughter was killed in crash
KIHEI — For police recruits learning the intricacies of DUI enforcement, the lessons began before they stepped into a Kihei Police Station parking lot to assess the sobriety of volunteer drinkers.
“When they first started the class, they said this is where they’re going to make the impacts,” said recruit Elliot Pereira. “We kind of understood that, but tonight really opened that up, opened our eyes to how it affects family and the aftermath.”
The recruits got a rare view into a June 23, 2019, fatal drunken driving crash that police traffic commander Lt. William Hankins called “the catalyst for change” in the way police and the community view such collisions.
“What I didn’t know that night was how this crash was going to change so much of what we do in Maui County – and me personally and professionally,” Hankins said. He spoke to the Maui Police Department’s 91st Recruit Class on March 19, as members were completing 48 hours of training in impaired driving enforcement.
After being called to the scene of the 1:27 a.m. collision on Kuihelani Highway on the Lahaina side of Waiko Road, Hankins saw a white Subaru Forester in the middle of the Kahului-bound lane. “Way down on the other end, I see a car up against the bridge abutment,” Hankins said.
The passenger in the car, a blue Honda Civic, had been pronounced dead.
She was 19-year-old Hannah Brown.
Police learned that her friend had been driving Hannah’s car in the lane close to the shoulder when it was hit by the Subaru that was heading the wrong way on the divided highway, Hankins said. He said the speed at impact was calculated at 90 mph.
Hannah’s friend “tried to avoid the crash by swerving, but that bullet car was coming so fast, there was nothing he could do to avoid the crash,” Hankins said.
The impact spun Hannah’s car clockwise and pushed it against the bridge abutment, while the Subaru rolled and tumbled, traveling the length of three football fields before stopping, Hankins said.
“It just kept jumping out at us, how big this scene was,” he said. “These cars are so far apart. There’s a lot of energy in this crash, and when I say energy, I’m talking about speed.”
He took note of tire marks, skid marks and gouges as he walked through the crash scene and gathered information.
“Now comes the hard part,” Hankins said, realizing he had to notify Hannah’s family that the 19-year-old had died.
“It’s the absolute worst job you can do,” he said. “You’re going to blow this family’s world apart, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
It was 3:30 a.m. when Hankins arrived at the Brown family home in Wailuku and knocked on the door. The kitchen light came on, then he saw Hannah’s father, Everett Brown.
When Hankins said he wanted to talk to the family of Hannah Brown, “he knew something was wrong,” Hankins said.
Hannah’s mother, Charlene Brown, was there along with Hannah’s younger brother, who had been sleeping in the living room.
“Just like that, people’s lives have changed forever, including myself,” Hankins said.
He left the rest of the story for Everett and Charlene Brown to tell.
“Honestly, we died that night too,” Everett said. “It’s rough. She was my only daughter. If you guys get daughters, you guys know. She was everything.”
Charlene said her daughter had bought the car on Friday, just a couple of days before she was killed early Sunday.
“We had to move out of that house because every Sunday morning at the same time, I could hear that pounding on the door,” she said. “I would wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares of glass flying in my face, like I was sitting in the car with her when it happened.”
She said she later learned that her daughter was sleeping when the crash occurred.
“So it could have been a blessing that she never felt herself die,” she said. “She was killed upon impact.”
Charlene said she “waited every day in the garage,” hoping to see her daughter pull up in the driveway again.
She hasn’t been able to return to her job at the insurance office where her daughter also worked.
“I will never forget that morning when he came knocking on our door,” she said. “I was in shock. I don’t think I even cried. I didn’t believe it as true.
“I live every day with anger, frustration, sadness. My life has never been the same. It’s almost been two years and it feels fresh every day.”
After the collision, the Brown family moved to Kula.
“A lot of people say we’re lucky,” Charlene said. “We would give it all back to have her in our arms again.”
She said she and her husband have distanced themselves from some family members “because they continue to drink and drive.”
“So by all means, pull them over,” she told the officers in training. “Let’s just pray no more people get their doors knocked on — and it can all start with you guys.”
Before Hankins and the Browns spoke, only one hand went up among the 17 police recruits when Hankins asked who hadn’t heard of Hannah Brown.
Still, the presentation struck home.
Samson Jaramillo-King, who had a good friend who died last year in a drinking-and-driving crash, said he “teared up” while listening to the Browns.
“When you see someone like that — Everett, how broken he is losing a child, you can feel his pain,” Jaramillo-King said.
Suzanne O, who had been working as a paralegal for the Lowenthal & Lowenthal law firm that handled the Browns’ civil case, said hearing from the family reinforced her decision to become a police officer.
“Seeing them tonight just validated that this is something I should be doing,” she said. “It was even more of a push for me.”
Fellow recruit Josiah Maglente-Tonu said, “It just adds fuel to the fire, wanting to get these people off the road. It makes me even more passionate about the career choice that I’ve chosen.”
Recruit Dylan Hankins said the tragedy had more of an impact because he was a classmate of Hannah at Maui High School and knows her brother Sketch.
“The biggest thing is trying to get these people off the street so they don’t have to knock on someone else’s door,” Dylan Hankins said. “Each door that they knock on, you’re ruining that entire family’s life.
“You’re never going to be able to see that person again. You never get to say goodbye. You’ll never be able to hug them.”
Mark Nelson said he thought about his children who will be driving in a couple of years.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be a police officer is to make a difference,” he said. “This really hit home. I have to admit I got choked up.”
The collision that killed Hannah was followed by another crash July 21, 2019, that killed 49-year-old Kihei resident Mildred Jouvenat and her 14-year-old son, Jacob. She was driving a Nissan Versa that was hit head-on by a Ford F150 pickup truck that crossed left of center and was driven by a man who had been consuming alcohol, police said.
That led to a sign-waving against impaired driving that drew hundreds of participants, including Jouvenat and Brown family members, Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteers, prosecutor’s office employees, County Council members and Mayor Michael Victorino.
Hankins met longtime Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteer Andrea Maniago at the sign-waving and, with then Prosecuting Attorney Don Guzman, talked to the mayor about having a deputy prosecutor dedicated to impaired-driving cases.
Deputy Prosecutor Brandon Segal was assigned to head the new Vehicular Homicide and Road Safety Unit of the prosecutor’s office.
Near Thanksgiving, police organized the first sobriety checkpoint as a memorial to Hannah.
And last year, the County Council passed a new law allowing for the towing of vehicles when drivers are arrested for impaired driving.
A recent National Safety Council report showed traffic fatalities nationwide increased by 24 percent from 2019 to 2020, even as miles driven decreased by 13 percent in the pandemic, for the largest increase in 96 years.
With a 20 percent drop in fatalities, Hawaii led nine states that saw declines in traffic deaths last year. Hankins said Maui County had the largest decline at 52 percent and credited the work done by police and others.
He said officers have worried about calling victims’ families, not wanting to disturb a good day, before Everett Brown said “there are no good days.”
“Now we understand a little bit more of what these families go through,” Hankins said. “The most important thing is to keep the families informed, talk to the families about what’s going on.”
“I told you from day one we were going to give you tools to save someone’s life, and we have,” Hankins told the recruits. “You have to use them.”
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.