Driver indicted in fatal collision
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Jim Dooley
Authorities yesterday filed criminal charges against a driver involved in the April 4, 2006, motor vehicle collision that killed four farm workers and injured eight others in Central O'ahu.
John Joseph Szemkow, 47, a civilian worker at Schofield Barracks, was indicted by the O'ahu grand jury with leaving the scene of an accident and with four counts of misdemeanor negligent homicide.
Szemkow's lawyer, Sam King Jr., yesterday disputed early news and witness accounts of the accident that said Szemkow was "recklessly passing" other vehicles on Kunia Road, leading to the accident.
A Ford F-250 pickup truck carrying 12 farm workers reportedly swerved and collided head-on with a cement truck owned by Island Ready Mix.
"There was no reckless passing," King said.
"What happened was, there was an accident behind my client's car. I don't think he even knew there was an accident," King said.
When Szemkow arrived at work, he heard accounts of the accident on the radio as well as a description of a vehicle that police were seeking that generally matched Szemkow's car, King said.
"He went to see the provost (at Schofield Barracks) that very morning and that's how he was identified," King said.
The indictment alleged that Szemkow used "simple negligence" in operating his vehicle and caused the death of Aquilina Polendey, 57, Lorna Laroco, 53, Gertrudis Montano, 59, and Ana Sacalamitao, 46.
Eight other farm workers in the truck were injured. All were employed by a group of companies owned by businessman Larry Jefts and members of his family.
David Brustein, attorney for one of the surviving workers, Demetria Casido, said, "It was obviously a horrific accident and Mrs. Casido continues to suffer from multiple physical and psychological injuries which are permanent."
The accident "was a tragic, senseless loss of life," he said.
James Leavitt, who represents the family of one of the deceased workers, Gertrudis Montano, said Montano's husband, Zacarias, died within six months of the accident "and there's every reason to believe he died of a broken heart."
Only one lawsuit has been filed in the wake of the accident, and according to documents filed in that case, survivors of the accident as well as families of the deceased have petitioned to the court to approve a settlement of all potential claims rising from the accident.
The petition said the parties agreed to settle "rather than proceed with the filing and prosecution of wrongful death and personal injury liability lawsuits (which would be vigorously fought and disputed)."
The settlement said as much as $11 million in insurance coverage was carried by Waikele Farms Inc., the owner of the pickup truck.
Reach Jim Dooley at email@example.com.
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