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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 9:33 a.m., Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Expert says Arakawa's blood alcohol below limit

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

Because he was an "experienced drinker" who had a "practiced liver," former police officer Clyde Arakawa was able to consume 11 drinks in a six-hour period but wasn't drunk when he was involved in a fatal traffic collision, a defense expert witness testified in Circuit Court yesterday.

Former police officer Clyde Arakawa is on trial for the car crash death of Dana Ambrose.

Advertiser library photo • Jan. 23, 2002

Mark Hagadone, a forensic chemist and toxicologist whose Honolulu companies are involved in testing employees for alcohol use, said he believes Arakawa's blood alcohol level reached a peak of .09 at about 11 p.m., but that it had decreased to .073 when his car collided with one driven by 19-year-old college student Dana Ambrose 45 minutes later on Oct. 7, 2000.

Under state law, drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher are considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

But city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle yesterday challenged Hagadone's numbers, saying evidence showed Arakawa drank many more drinks in a much shorter time than Hagadone used in his formula. In addition, under questioning by Carlisle, Hagadone acknowledged that the high alcohol elimination rate he used to calculate Arakawa's blood alcohol level is usually associated with "chronic heavy drinkers."

Hagadone was called as a witness for Arakawa, 50, who is on trial on a manslaughter charge accusing him of recklessly killing Ambrose in the collision at the intersection of Pali Highway and School Street.

Controversy has swirled around the high-profile case since the night of the collision. Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue acknowledged a few days later that Arakawa, an off-duty veteran of the department, received special treatment from fellow officers in the hours after the crash.

Arakawa was allowed to call his lawyer from the scene and was not required to provide a breath or blood sample to measure possible alcohol impairment immediately after the accident.

Carlisle claims Arakawa was drunk and speeding up Pali Highway and ran a red light, but Arakawa's defense contends that he was not drunk, a key element for a manslaughter conviction. Defense lawyer Michael Ostendorp also contends Ambrose was speeding and that she ran the red light.

Ostendorp today said Arakawa will not testify in his own defense at the trial, which is expected to end as soon as today.

In his testimony, Hagadone said he believes prosecution witnesses Clifford Wong and Marcelliane Burns incorrectly concluded that Arakawa's blood alcohol level was between .15 and .17 at the time of the accident, about twice the legal limit.

The two arrived at that figure based on a breath test that Arakawa took at 7 a.m. the following morning, which showed a level of .06. The two then used what they said was a nationally recognized rate to calculate the amount of alcohol Arakawa's liver was able to remove from his blood between the time of the crash and when he took the blood test. Both concluded he was far above the limit at the time of the crash.

But Hagadone yesterday said those calculations were flawed because Wong and Burns did not take into account that Arakawa's liver began clearing the alcohol from his body within as little as 30 minutes after he had his first drink on the day of the accident.

Arakawa's liver continued to sweep the alcohol from his blood "second by second, minute by minute" throughout the evening leading up to the crash, Hagadone said.

In addition, Burns used a substantially lower rate in estimating how quickly Arakawa's system was able to clear away the alcohol and Wong used a slightly lower rate than he did, Hagadone said.

He said his "drinking scenario" was based on Arakawa consuming 11 drinks the night of the crash, or one about every 30 minutes.

But Carlisle challenged the rate of drinks used by Hagadone, contending that videotape evidence showed that Arakawa had seven drinks in a two-hour period at one of the bars he visited, a 42 percent difference in the rate Hagadone assumed in his calculations.

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.