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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Arakawa ran red light, eyewitness tells jurors

By David Waite and Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers

An eyewitness to the traffic collision that killed Dana Ambrose testified yesterday that a car identified as being driven by former police officer Clyde Arakawa ran the red light at a Pali Highway intersection and slammed Ambrose's.

Clyde Arakawa, a retired policeman, is on trial for manslaughter.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Claren Damaso said she and her boyfriend had stopped in his car at a red light on Pali Highway when she saw a white blur race past them toward Kailua in the left lane. An instant later, there was a thunderous crash.

She said she immediately called 911 on her cellular phone, but was so shaken that she gave the phone to her boyfriend, Bricyn Afong, to ask for help.

Damaso said she saw the white car's driver, later identified by police as Arakawa, get out of the driver's side of his smashed car and hold on to the door for support.

She said she got out of the car to see if she could help. "But I looked at the crash and it was so bad, I didn't want to go any closer," Damaso said. "So I stopped myself and went back to (Afong's) car."

Damaso, a 19-year-old Kapi'olani Community College student, was one of the opening prosecution witnesses as Arakawa's manslaughter trial began yesterday in Circuit Judge Karen Ahn's courtroom.

Bolstering prosecution case

Clyde Arakawa trial
 •  Defendant: Clyde Arakawa, 50, retired Honolulu police officer who now lives in Oregon
 •  Charge: Manslaughter
 •  Maximum sentence: 20 years
 •  Prosecution: Arakawa recklessly killed Ambrose. He drank for seven straight hours in the afternoon and late into the evening the night of the collision during retirement parties; he then drove drunk and ran a red light at Pali Highway and School Street at about 11:50 p.m. Oct. 7, 2000. Arakawa's car slammed into a car driven by 19-year-old Dana Ambrose, who suffered fatal injuries.
 •  Victim: Ambrose, a Hale'iwa resident, was driving home from her job as a waitress at the Brew Moon restaurant at Ward Centre. Her family has a pending lawsuit against Arakawa and the bars that served him the night of the collision.
 •  Defense: Ambrose caused the crash by running the red light.
 •  Key prosecution witnesses: Police officers who investigated the case, as many as four eyewitnesses who will testify that Arakawa ran a red light.
 •  Key defense witnesses: Arakawa, if he testifies. An eyewitness who will say that Ambrose ran the red light. Possibly experts to testify about Arakawa's ability to drink large amounts without becoming alcohol impaired. Technical experts to testify about how fast Ambrose was going and who had the right of way.
 •  Jury: Three men, nine women, three alternates
 •  Length: Trial expected to run two or three weeks.
Damaso's testimony is the first public eyewitness account of the collision and helped bolster one of the key elements of the prosecution's case: that a drunken Arakawa ran the red light and recklessly caused the death of the 19-year-old Ambrose in the late-night collision Oct. 7, 2000.

At the time Arakawa was still a member of the Honolulu police force but was off duty. He retired after the crash and moved to the Mainland.

Arakawa, 50, sat next to Ostendorp with a yellow legal pad in front of him and listened intently to the testimony. His mother and father and other family members filled the front row of the courtroom and he visited with them briefly during an early recess in the trial.

Ambrose's mother, father and brother flew in from California and also sat in the gallery.

In his opening statements yesterday, city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle told the jury that Arakawa drank 10 to 11 beers and one shot of hard liquor in the seven hours leading up to the "violent collision" that killed Ambrose.

In the darkened courtroom, Carlisle used a PowerPoint presentation that showed a picture of Arakawa next to the phrase: "Arakawa At The Scene."

With the visual presentation, Carlisle highlighted key points of the prosecution's case: Police officers at the scene of the crash at Pali Highway and School Street reported that Arakawa "smelled of alcohol." His "eyes were bloodshot and glassy." And Arakawa refused a field sobriety test and was later arrested.

Carlisle also presented to the jury a photograph from a security camera at an Ala Moana area bar showing Arakawa drinking beer on the night of the collision.

Arakawa walked away from the wreckage, Carlisle said. Ambrose had to be pried out by rescue crews, he said.

Her injuries included a bruised and bleeding brain, three broken ribs, a crushed right foot that included a compound fracture, bleeding spleen, and the most serious — two broken neck bones that severed the spinal cord, Carlisle said.

"It meant that she never had a chance to live," Carlisle said.

Defense defers statement

Prosecutor Peter Carlisle was on hand last night when jurors visited the scene of the accident to gain insight into witness accounts about what happened at the Pali Highway intersection on Oct. 7, 2000.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Arakawa's lawyer, Michael Ostendorp, reserved the right to give his opening statement once the prosecution has finished presenting its case against Arakawa.

Defense lawyers usually present an opening statement, but in some instances, they choose to defer to prevent the prosecution from tailoring its case to rebut elements of the defense case.

Although he did not make an opening statement, Ostendorp hammered away during cross-examination at minor inconsistencies between Damaso's testimony and the statements she gave to police investigators within days of the crash.

For example, when police investigators asked Damaso if Ambrose entered the intersection on a red light or green light, she said it was red, but she immediately amended her statement to say Ambrose entered on a green light.

Ostendorp questioned Damaso's recollection of what happened the night of the collision, but she stuck to her assertion that she could clearly see that the light was red when Arakawa's car entered the intersection and hit Ambrose's car on the driver's door.

The accident scene

The impact pushed Ambrose's car into a concrete pillar that supports an overhead ramp connecting a town-bound Pali Highway lane with the diamondhead-bound lanes of the H-1 Freeway.

Last night, the jurors visited the scene of the collision to get a better understanding of witness testimony. Police blocked traffic leading to the intersection while the 12 jurors and four alternates walked from a nearby parking lot to the scene.

Jurors inspected various points in the intersection for about six minutes, but spent most of the time looking at the pillar where the two cars came to a stop. A couple of jurors asked questions of Ahn's staff while the judge looked on from a distance.

The trial resumes today.

Staff writer Curtis Lum contributed to this report.