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Man serving year in jail for attack of then-girlfriend

WAILUKU — A Napili man is serving a one-year jail term for what a deputy prosecutor described as a “brutal and callous” attack that included strangling his then-girlfriend with a seat belt.

John Kauvaka, 37, also was placed on five years’ probation when he was sentenced Friday.

He had pleaded no contest to felony abuse, with other charges dismissed in exchange for his plea.

In recommending the one-year jail term, Deputy Prosecutor Anthony Herndon said Kauvaka didn’t just abuse the woman but “strangled her” by taking a seat belt and pulling it across her neck.

“This attack was brutal and callous,” Herndon said.

At a June 10 court hearing, the woman described an argument over money that began Dec. 5, 2019, when Kauvaka called her at work. They met at McDonald’s in Lahaina and she got into his truck to go to Costco for gas.

When they got there, she said he “gave me an open-handed smack across my face.”

“I was in a daze,” she said. “That’s when he punched me with a closed fist.”

Her mouth was bleeding when he punched her again, she said.

“The argument got worse,” she said.

Kauvaka hit her a fourth time and after she hit him back, he grabbed the passenger seat belt and wrapped it around her neck, she said.

While trying to get free, she said she kicked the glove compartment and broke it off its hinges. She said she bit his hand and he released her.

“He told me, ‘Get out of the truck,’ “ she said. “I told him he had to drive me to the police station or EMS.”

Kauvaka drove back to McDonald’s, hit her again and pulled her hair before she got out of the truck, she said. He grabbed her purse and took out other belongings while looking for her wallet, she said. He also took her glasses and smashed them, she said.

She was yelling for passersby to call for help before police arrived and separated them.

Herndon said the woman “had the physical injuries to demonstrate that brutality that occurred at Mr. Kauvaka’s hands that night.”

She was bleeding, had significant bruising and also suffered dizziness and injury to her voice, Herndon said.

“Those physical scars and injuries took quite some time to heal,” he said. “The mental and emotional scars have remained with her for the nearly two years since this incident and likely will last her whole lifetime.”

After the attack, the woman said she had to leave her job and moved to Oahu.

“Now I’m afraid all the time,” she said at the June 10 hearing. “I don’t know where the person is who I used to be.”

The attack occurred “because the defendant was angry about relationship issues, about money issues,” Herndon said. He said Kauvaka was angry because the woman wouldn’t pay for him to fill up his truck with gas.

“This was out of bounds,” Herndon said. “It was egregious and demonstrates defendant was dangerous and out of control that night.”

Deputy Public Defender Ben Lowenthal asked the court to consider that Kauvaka was remorseful and hardworking and could learn from domestic violence intervention classes.

His only prior record is a citation for drinking in Lahaina in 2007, Lowenthal said, in asking that jail for Kauvaka be limited to 30 days.

Addressing his former girlfriend in court Friday, Kauvaka said, “You know the kind of man I am. I am sorry for what I put you through. I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I hurt your family.”

In sentencing Kauvaka, 2nd Circuit Judge Richard Bissen said that in a report prepared for sentencing, Kauvaka seemed to imply that the woman’s version of what happened was exaggerated or an incomplete picture of their six-year relationship.

“However, I think the physical evidence speaks to what occurred,” Bissen said. “It seems like this relationship was at the end of its course and that (the victim) was on the receiving end of that frustration.”

The judge noted that the assault continued during the drive from West Maui to Central Maui and back.

“He assaulted her because of a dispute over finances,” Bissen said. “His anger, his rage indicated he was unable to control his behavior.”

Kauvaka was ordered not to consume alcohol or illegal drugs and to complete domestic violence intervention classes.

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

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