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Woman pleads guilty to manslaughter for fatal 2019 crash

Head-on collision on Kuihelani Highway killed 19-year-old Hannah Brown

Jio

WAILUKU — A Kula woman who said she had been driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter for causing a head-on collision that killed 19-year-old Wailuku resident Hannah Brown.

Lynsey Jio, 25, entered the guilty plea one day after the two-year anniversary of the crash, which occurred at 1:27 a.m. June 23, 2019, on Kuihelani Highway, 3 miles north of Honoapiilani Highway, in Kahului.

“I was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana at the time and should not have been driving,” Jio testified in court Thursday. “I drove extremely fast and recklessly. I am told that I drove 90 mph and on the wrong side of the highway. I believe these things to be true, but I do not remember.

“I hit Hannah Brown’s vehicle head on and caused the collision that took her life.”

Police said the 2016 Subaru Forester driven by Jio was going the wrong way on the road and traveling in the Lahaina direction when it collided into a Kahului-bound 2003 Honda Civic that was in the proper northbound lane on the highway.

Hannah Brown’s family members gather around a photo of her on Wednesday, the two-year anniversary of her death in a June 23, 2019, collision on Kuihelani Highway in Kahului. From left are her older brother, Sketch, parents Hannah and Everett, and younger brother, Sheriff. Hannah was a passenger in her car that was hit by a vehicle driven by Lynsey Jio, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter Thursday and said she was driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana that night. Photo courtesy of Brown family

Brown, who was a passenger in the Civic driven by a 19-year-old man, suffered fatal injuries and died at the scene, police said.

Her death and the deaths of others in alcohol-related fatal collisions around the same time led to community rallies against impaired driving.

Later that year, police held the first Hannah Brown Memorial Intoxication Checkpoint near the site of the fatal crash.

In court Thursday, 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill read terms of a plea agreement, reached between the prosecution and defense, that recommended Jio be sentenced to 10 years’ probation and two years of jail instead of the maximum 20-year prison term. She agreed to perform 2,080 hours of community service at the rate of at least 260 hours a year.

The community service would be related to impaired driving prevention and education. If that’s not available, the community service could be related to substance abuse and mental health.

She agreed not to seek early termination of her probation.

The prosecution said it will ask that Jio’s driver’s license be revoked for life when she is sentenced Sept. 27.

Deputy Prosecutor Brandon Segal said he had extensive discussions with Brown’s family and explained potential outcomes of a trial and plea agreements.

“We have reached this agreement with their authorization,” Segal said.

As part of her testimony about her actions that led to her guilty plea, Jio said she had gotten off work close to midnight before the crash and sat in the parking lot in her car for a while before driving to her grandmother’s house in Wailuku Heights and parking on the street.

She said she began consuming alcohol from a bottle of gin and smoking marijuana in the car.

“I do not remember exactly how much I drank, but it was to excess,” she said. “I was definitely under the influence, and I was not able to safely drive.”

She said she smoked about 1 gram of marijuana.

After police drove by her parked car, Jio said she drove to the Longs Drugs parking lot to sleep.

“After a little while, I decided that it was too dangerous to spend the night there, so I decided to drive home,” she said.

Under questioning by Judge Cahill, Jio said that before the collision, she had been diagnosed with major depression and was receiving mental health care.

While police hadn’t known where Jio had been before the fatal collision, her words in court matched the findings of a police traffic investigation into the crash, police traffic commander Lt. William Hankins said after the hearing.

“That’s what alcohol does, it lets you make bad decisions,” he said.

He said that hours after the crash, Jio’s blood-alcohol level was still significantly over the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

According to documents filed in court, her blood-alcohol was measured at 0.165 percent and 0.15 percent at 6:40 a.m. and 7:26 a.m., respectively, the day of the crash. A breath test taken at 8:40 a.m. showed an alcohol level of 0.133 percent.

During a court hearing April 15 on a defense request to suppress evidence of the blood-alcohol measurements, police officers described Jio as “incoherent” and unsteady on her feet, with a strong odor of liquor coming from her.

As part of the plea agreement, charges of driving under the influence of an intoxicant, excessive speeding and reckless driving will be dismissed.

Hannah Brown’s parents, Everett and Charlene Brown, said after the hearing that they didn’t want the dismissal of the charges to be misinterpreted as meaning they weren’t factors in the crash. Those offenses are reflected in the manslaughter charge.

“We want people to understand it’s not dismissing what caused this, which was the drinking and driving, the excessive speeding,” Charlene Brown said.

“It did feel good to hear her say, ‘I change my plea to guilty,’ “ she said.

Both she and her husband said they wanted to see Jio serve her community, as the Browns have done through sign-waving and speaking to youth since their only daughter’s death.

The family is organizing another sign-waving against impaired driving at 5 p.m. July 2 at Hoaloha Park in Kahului. The event, at the start of the Fourth of July weekend, is open to anyone who has lost someone to drinking and driving, Charlene Brown said.

Of the six traffic deaths on Maui County roads this year, half were alcohol or drug related, Hankins said. He said three people would be alive if not for choices made to drive impaired.

“It may not seem like much,” he said. “If your family’s one of those, it means the world to you.”

Everett Brown said the family decided to support the plea agreement for Jio, knowing that even a guilty verdict after a trial wouldn’t accomplish “what we hoped for, which would be maybe she spend the rest of her life in jail.”

Without the agreement, Jio wouldn’t be facing that amount of community service.

“We lost already,” Everett Brown said. “It’s the only thing we can do now so nobody else got to lose.

“It’s one thing to sit there and think about what you did. It’s another thing to get out there and do something about what you did.”

Hankins said he was glad for the Brown family that Jio was taking responsibility for her actions instead of having the family face a trial.

Along with the Brown family, Jio’s family “didn’t ask for any of this,” Hankins said.

“You got two families here that have been devastated by alcohol and drugs too,” he said. “When it comes to impaired driving, nobody wins.”

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

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