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Man placed under probation for habitual DUI

He calls arrest ‘blessing in disguise,’ says outpatient treatment has helped to address root of problem

WAILUKU — A Haiku man who said his arrest last year was “a blessing in disguise” was placed on five years’ probation Oct. 12 for habitually driving under the influence of alcohol.

Benjamin Kotter, 40, was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and perform 300 hours of community service as part of his sentence. He was allowed to serve a 10-day jail term through house detention by having a GPS monitoring anklet installed.

Kotter was arrested after a traffic stop at 1:50 a.m. Jan. 8, 2020, when an officer saw him driving left of the centerline and weaving into the oncoming lane of traffic on Waiale Road in Wailuku.

He wasn’t able to perform field sobriety maneuvers and the officer noticed an odor of liquor from Kotter, as well as slurred speech and red watery eyes, said Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Teshima.

He said Kotter denied he had been drinking alcohol, but a friend traveling with him told police otherwise.

Teshima said the prosecutor’s office views impaired driving cases seriously because the crimes “also lead to great tragedy in the community with people being badly hurt or losing their lives.”

“Often, people ask me what’s the scariest thing I see as a prosecutor,” Teshima said. “I tell them it’s these kinds of things because they can happen to anybody, anywhere, and driving drunk is completely preventable.”

Kotter pleaded no contest to the felony charge, which was based on his two prior DUI convictions within 10 years of his arrest.

The convictions were in 2013 and 2014, said his attorney, Annalisa Bernard.

She said Kotter agreed “his actions were unacceptable that night.”

After participating in outpatient treatment following his arrest, “he’s got the right attitude,” Bernard said.

“I’d like to apologize to everybody here in the community for my behavior,” Kotter said in court Oct. 12. “This has been a big eye-opener.

“I vowed to be there for my kids and my mom. I knew if I continued down this path, I wouldn’t be there for them in one way or another.”

Through treatment, “I realized the root of all of this, which was unaddressed childhood trauma,” he said. “Being able to realize that has helped me to overcome bad decisions and to forgive and to work on myself from the inside.

“I’m very grateful for the situation. It was a blessing in disguise. It’s allowed me to strengthen my relationship with my kids, my friends, my family. Also, it helped me to be alcohol free.”

Attorneys asked the court to follow a plea agreement in sentencing Kotter.

Bernard said the agreement was fair based on circumstances including constitutional issues raised by the defense.

Kotter had refused testing before police applied for a warrant to draw his blood that morning. The defense sought to have the results suppressed.

Second Circuit Judge Kelsey Kawano followed the plea agreement in sentencing Kotter.

“Normally, persons who find themselves in your position haven’t gotten to the stage of honest reflection of where they stand,” Kawano said to Kotter. “You’ve gone far beyond that, which puts you in a very good situation of being able to succeed.

“I commend you on your awareness and your commitment. I believe you will succeed if you just stay to it, stay committed, be true to yourself and your family.”

Kotter was ordered to pay $462 in fees.

While his driver’s license is revoked for five years, Kotter will be able to drive with the installation of an ignition interlock device.

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

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