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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Volcanic Ash
Compassion fled the scene

By David Shapiro

I once got into a bad car accident on a business trip to Pennsylvania. I was too pokey getting through an intersection, and a fellow in a Cadillac barreled into me with too much foot on the gas pedal.

The Cadillac hit my small car broadside on the driver's side. If I had been driven into a wall, pole or another car, there's little question that I would have been crushed to death. But in the open intersection, the Cadillac just knocked me silly and bulldozed me 20 yards.

I was dazed with a fierce headache when a voice at my crumpled door asked if I was OK. I ignored the question. "How's the driver of the other car?" I wanted to know.

He told me he was the driver of the other car, and I have never felt greater relief. Nor had he when he later saw me out of the car and walking around. The first instinct of both of us was to be grateful we were personally OK, but even more thankful that the other wasn't hurt.

After that experience, it's difficult to understand why we've never heard former police officer Clyde Arakawa say with any sincerity that he's really sorry Dana Ambrose died in their accident of Oct. 7, 2000.

Even if he isn't at fault, you would still expect Arakawa to show regret for his part in the 19-year-old's death.

But he shows sorrow only for himself.

When Arakawa's 1993 Thunderbird collided with Ambrose's Honda at School Street and Pali Highway, she wasn't as lucky as I was in Pennsylvania. Her car was sheared off by a traffic light and slammed into a concrete wall.

Prosecutor Peter Carlisle charges that Arakawa had been drinking heavily and was speeding. In charging Arakawa with manslaughter, which carries a 20-year prison term, the prosecutor pointed to an earlier drunken incident in which Arakawa was convicted of trespass. The judge in that case ordered him to stay away from alcohol.

Whether he's guilty of man-slaughter or not, Arakawa has plenty to be contrite about. But he's too absorbed in self-preservation.

He availed himself of "courtesies" from his fellow officers and moved freely about the scene as emergency workers peeled Ambrose's body from her mangled car. Then he blamed Ambrose for the collision and then he blamed the city, claiming the traffic light was faulty.

He sued the Ambrose estate for damages to his car, which had a value of $3,000. He sued the state for releasing information about him to the public. Judges quickly dismissed his motions.

Now he's seeking public money to pay for his defense, claiming the $20,000 he has spent on legal fees so far have left him broke. This despite the fact that he was able to post $75,000 cash bail, sold two properties in Oregon for $100,000 each and can afford to commute for trial dates from his new home in Oregon.

When Circuit Judge Karen Ahn wisely asked Arakawa to further document his finances, his lawyer whined that he was being singled out for his notoriety.

Arakawa must be presumed innocent and is entitled to defend himself vigorously. But it's a wretched existence that's empty of compassion for the tragedy of others.

If Arakawa thinks he got a raw deal, he should look at the weathered lei that still hangs from the traffic light where Dana Ambrose lost her life.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net.