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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2003

Family of H-1 crash victim suing other driver

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

Family members of a Waipahu woman who was fatally injured when a pickup truck slammed into the back of her car Feb. 21 on H-1 Freeway are suing the driver of the truck, saying he was drunk.

A lawsuit filed yesterday in Circuit Court by attorney Richard Turbin on behalf of Johnelle Tapu's six children, seven sisters, four brothers and her husband claims that Ronald S. Kubo Jr. was speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol when his 2001 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck ran into the back of Tapu's 1991 Nissan Sentra.

But Kubo's lawyer said the police investigation is not finished and his client has not been charged. Guy Matsunaga, called the lawsuit and statements Turbin made at a press conference yesterday "reckless."

At the press conference at his office, Turbin said Tapu, 36, was driving eastbound on H-1 Freeway from her home in Waipahu to her job as a security guard at Honolulu International Airport and had slowed almost to a stop as she rolled up to the scene of another accident.

Turbin said initial police reports show that Kubo did not slow down much, if at all, before his truck rammed into Tapu's car.

He said tests done on Kubo, 25, of Kaimuki, showed a blood alcohol level of .068 three hours after the crash. People whose blood alcohol level is .08 or higher are considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol. Turbin said if the matter goes to trial he will call expert witnesses who will testify that the amount of alcohol in Kubo's body exceeded the legal limit at the time of the crash.

"I don't know why Turbin is coming out with the lawsuit and press conference when the police haven't even released all of their reports yet," Matsunaga said.

Turbin said he expects the city prosecutor's office to file negligent homicide charges against Kubo.

But Matsunaga said Kubo was released by police after the accident and had not been charged with any offenses as of yesterday.

"It's going to take four to eight months to reconstruct that accident to understand what really happened that night," Matsunaga said. "Mr. Turbin is fluffing up his case and denying my client his rights."

Family members described Johnelle Tapu as a deeply caring person, one who would go door-to-door in some of Waipahu's toughest neighborhoods to collect donations for the Hawai'i Food Bank and clothing and school supplies for children whose parents could not afford them.