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Beyond the call of duty

Lt. William Hankins sticks to his pledge

Lt. William Hankins poses at Maui Police Department’s Wailuku Station. Hankins has gone above and beyond to prevent impaired driving on Maui. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

When he swore an oath to protect and serve three decades ago, Lt. William Hankins vowed to keep his community safe.

Thirty years later, he remains steadfastly committed to that pledge.

Over the course of his law enforcement career, the Maui Police Department veteran has worked in the Lahaina, Wailuku and Kihei patrol divisions, served on the DUI Task Force and Vehicle Homicide Unit and was commander of the Hana Patrol District, among other duties. In early 2019, Hankins stepped into the role of MPD traffic commander and now oversees the department’s traffic section, which is composed of the Solo Bike Unit, DUI Task Force and Vehicle Homicide Unit.

He’s laser-focused on keeping Maui’s roadways safe, but there’s one issue firmly in his crosshairs: impaired driving. The longtime officer is acutely aware of the tragic consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He’s met with grieving families; he’s witnessed their unimaginable pain and sorrow.

An inflection point came in June of 2019, when 19-year-old Hannah Brown was killed in a collision on Kuihelani Highway caused by a drunken driver. A month later, Mildred Jouvenat and her 14-year-old son, Jacob, were killed when an alcohol-impaired driver crashed head-on into their vehicle on Piilani Highway.

Hankins says the two consecutive incidents prompted him to take more aggressive action.

That summer, he teamed up with Maui County Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who chairs the council’s Water, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, to craft legislation that would allow police to tow a vehicle when its operator is arrested for a DUI at the registered owner’s expense — another tool to deter drivers from getting behind the wheel while impaired. Mayor Mike Victorino signed the bill into law last December.

Hankins was also among those who helped usher in the state’s electronic warrant system, which took effect in January. Time is of the essence in a suspected impaired driving case, he explained, and with an e-warrant (which is sent through secure email to a judge, who then reviews, signs and returns it), traffic officers can test drivers’ blood more quickly, thereby speeding up the investigative process.

Hankins also advocated for the creation of the Maui County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s new Vehicular Homicide and Road Safety Unit, which is dedicated to the prosecution of traffic crimes, including motor vehicle-related homicide, habitual impaired driving and felony injury related to speeding and distracted driving. The unit was established in June and now works closely with MPD’s Vehicular Homicide Unit and DUI Task Force.

The past year has been filled with milestones, and Hankins credits the passion and dedication of many — his fellow officers, local lawmakers, Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteers and others — for the successes. The overarching goal, he said, “is to change people’s mindsets and change their behavior.” As part of his quest to raise awareness, he has taken part in sign-waving events alongside families who have lost loved ones to impaired driving, including the Brown family, with whom he has forged a friendship. Last November, he and the Browns set up the first annual Hannah Brown Memorial Intoxication Checkpoint on Kuihelani Highway on Thanksgiving Eve; this year’s checkpoint was held on Nov. 23.

Hankins says the efforts are paying off. In 2019, there were 21 fatal traffic accidents in Maui County resulting in 23 deaths. Of the 21 accidents, 80 percent involved either alcohol, drugs or both. In 2020 so far, Maui County has seen a 73 percent drop in fatal traffic accidents and an 80 percent reduction in alcohol-related fatalities, Hankins said. This is likely due in part to fewer cars on the road amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but he believes it can also be attributed to stepped-up enforcement and advocacy.

Maui County has seen the largest decrease in traffic fatalities in the state since last year — fatalities went down 40 percent on Kauai and 39 percent in Hawaii County and rose by 2 percent in Honolulu County, according to data from the state Department of Transportation as of late November.

It’s a marked improvement, Hankins said, “but more work needs to be done.”

That said, Hankins will continue to do everything in his power to put an end to these preventable tragedies.

“I’ll do whatever I can to save people’s lives,” he said.

To learn more about the impacts of impaired driving, visit www.madd.org/hawaii/.

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