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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Ex-officer Arakawa says he's not guilty

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Former Honolulu police officer Clyde Arakawa, facing a manslaughter charge in connection with a fatal collision involving a 19-year-old woman, says he did not run a red light and believes he's being "villainized" to the point where he cannot receive a fair trial.

Ex-officer Clyde Arakawa, left, says the traffic-control devices at the intersection of Pali Highway and School Street were not maintained properly by the city. His lawyer, Michael Ostendorp, said Arakawa did not run a red light. City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, right, has charged the retired officer with manslaughter.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

"No matter who it is, when there's a death it's always difficult," Arakawa told The Advertiser yesterday in a telephone interview from the office of his attorney, Michael Ostendorp. "But I'm not guilty, and I'm not the cause of her death."

Arakawa denied that he has a drinking problem but refused further comment as to how much he drank before the collision Oct. 7 at Pali Highway and School Street.

The accident caused outrage in the community when it was discovered that Arakawa was given "courtesies" at the scene, such as being allowed to roam the area before his arrest.

Arakawa, 49, who retired following the collision and moved to Oregon last year, was indicted by an O'ahu grand jury last week on a charge of manslaughter accusing him of recklessly causing the death of 19-year-old Dana Ambrose of Hale'iwa.

He is accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and running a red light before his Ford Thunderbird slammed into Ambrose's Honda Civic.

Arakawa was served with a criminal warrant yesterday, charging him with reckless manslaughter, at the District Court cellblock shortly after Circuit Judge Richard Perkins granted his request for seven days of supervised release to arrange for $100,000 bail.

Arakawa has a bail hearing Tuesday.

Investigation questioned

During the seven-day period, Perkins prohibited Arakawa from consuming or possessing alcohol and also from driving a motor vehicle. Arakawa's driver's license was revoked for one year last fall.

Police earlier said they turned over the case to city prosecutors as negligent homicide, but City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle yesterday said the decision to charge Arakawa with the more serious manslaughter charge was based on the "conduct of the defendant."

Manslaughter carries a maximum 20-year prison term. First-degree negligent homicide is punishable by a maximum 10-year sentence.

"I spent a great deal of expense investigating the case, and we tried to present the evidence. But (Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney) Peter Carlisle wasn't interested," said Arakawa, who believes officials needed to find a scapegoat and did not conduct a full investigation to include both sides of the story.

"My existence here is villainized. I don't feel I can have a fair jury trial," he said.

Arakawa described his life during the past six months as a "traumatic adjustment."

"I'm doing my best to deal with it," he said.

In a civil case filed by Ambrose's family against the former officer, Arakawa claims that the traffic-control devices at the intersection were not maintained and functioning properly and that the city's negligence caused the fatal crash.

"It has to do with the cycling of the traffic light," Ostendorp said. "Clyde did not go in on the red; she did and she was speeding.

"We believe she was timing his yellow (light) and anticipating her green (while approaching the intersection)," he added.

Attorney Richard "Rick" Fried, representing Ambrose's family in a civil suit set for trial in March 2002, said three witnesses will testify that Arakawa ran the red light and that the intersection was properly maintained.

Carlisle, meanwhile, said in a manslaughter prosecution, the state must prove the defendant acted in "conscious disregard" of the risks of his conduct.

The state plans to introduce a prior conviction for criminal trespass stemming from a Nov. 30, 1992, incident in which Arakawa was found drunk and asleep in a Kailua residence to establish that he knew or should have known how alcohol might affect his driving, Carlisle said.

"How fast he was going and does he have a history goes to determining is it negligence or reckless behavior," Carlisle said.

Drinking problem documented

At Arakawa's sentencing for the trespass conviction, his then-attorney Walter Horie acknowledged that "we do feel he does have a very strong drinking problem." Horie also told the court, "as far as alcohol, which may have been a contributing factor in this, Clyde understands the experience is ... devastating enough to keep it fresh in his mind so that it's not likely to occur again," according to court documents.

Horie added, "It was an unexpected reaction to the alcohol that caused the blackout."

Circuit Judge I. Norman Lewis told Arakawa at his 1994 sentencing that he was very concerned about "the debilitating effects alcohol has on you" and ordered him to refrain from the use of alcohol for one year while he was on probation.

Carlisle said he will argue that the precedent for admitting past history in drunken-driving manslaughter cases was established by former Circuit Judge James Aiona in the 1997 case involving James Steinseifer, who caused the deaths of three people, including an infant, in a January 1997 collision on Old Farrington Road.

"Judge Aiona was going to let us put it in," Carlisle said of Steinseifer's prior DUI history in Minnesota, "but he pled to manslaughter."

Steinseifer was sentenced to 20 years in prison — the harshest sentence ever in Hawai'i for a drunken-driving case — but the state Paroling Authority ruled he will be eligible for parole after he serves 17 years.