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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Something good from Dana Ambrose's death

At Dana Ambrose's memorial service in 2000, her heartbroken mother, Susan, said, "I think her death is perhaps an opportunity ... to make everything a better place for somebody, everybody."

Generous words from someone whose 19-year-old daughter was killed when an inebriated off-duty police officer ran a red light on the Pali Highway and broadsided Ambrose's Honda Civic.

As Susan Ambrose predicted in what must have been the absolute nadir of her life, something good has come out of the ill-fated Oct. 7, 2000, collision.

As part of the family's settlement with the Police Department, HPD has agreed to work with the police union to identify and help officers with alcohol or drug problems.

According to trial testimony, Clyde Arakawa had been drinking heavily before he slammed into Ambrose, and was said to have a history of alcohol abuse.

Instead of showing remorse after the collision, however, Arakawa sued Ambrose's estate for damage to his vehicle. His lawyer even suggested that Ambrose was high on Ecstacy, even though a medical examiner's report found nothing of the kind.

And this after he received preferential treatment from fellow officers at the crash site.

Later, at his sentencing, Arakawa showed some remorse when he said "I am very sorry for what has happened."

Arakawa is not the only police officer whose drunk driving has proved fatal.

Policing is among the most stressful of jobs in the country. That's not an excuse. Just a fact. In response, police management and unions are trying to provide confidential help to officers who abuse alcohol and drugs.

National studies have set the rate of alcoholism among police officers as high as 25 percent, which is alarming when you consider that the rate in the general population is about 7 percent.

We don't have any data to gauge the scope of alcoholism in the Honolulu Police Department. But if the settlement in the case of Dana Ambrose helps address the problem in any way, Ambrose's untimely death will not have been in vain.

It is a gift to our men and women in blue and to the entire community.