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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Defense claims road a 'death trap'

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

A 23-year-old former Navy man is contending that the end of Roosevelt Avenue at Kalaeloa was a "death trap" that resulted in fatal injuries to his passenger when he drove his car off the road three years ago.

The end of the road is also the scene of a crash that killed two teenagers on July 25.

John G. Elder is on trial without a jury before Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto on a charge of first-degree negligent homicide for the death of Navy man Nicholas Lopez, 20, of Kapolei. Lopez was the front passenger in the 1997 Chevy Camaro when it crashed June 21, 2003.

Elder, who was in the Navy at the time of the crash and has been honorably discharged, is accused of driving drunk when he drove through a chain-link fence at the end of Roosevelt Road late that night and slammed into the wall of a canal. He was hospitalized with leg and foot injuries.

City Deputy Prosecutor Darryl Miyahira's case alleges that Elder was under the influence of alcohol and speeding at 78 mph in a 35-mph zone.

Elder's blood alcohol content was measured at .09, which is above the .08 legal limit, but the prosecution was not able to introduce the findings because the lab technician who did the test had retired and was not available to testify, Miyahira said.

Ross said his client had only two or three beers and was driving at 45 miles an hour.

"He thought this road went straight through," Ross said.

The defense's expert witness was Richard Gill, an accident reconstructionist from Spokane, Wash.

Ross said Gill's testimony was that without adequate lighting and barriers, the end of the roadway constituted a "death trap."

Sakamoto, the lawyers and a court reporter were scheduled to visit the site last night to give the judge a chance to view the scene, but the trip was canceled because of 'ewa-bound lane closures on the H-1 Freeway.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for later this month.

Concrete barriers were installed at the end of the road after two teenagers died in July.

Killed in that crash were Leslie Kim, 16, and Tanya House, 18, who were passengers in a car that flew off the road and crashed into the embankment of the canal.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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