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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 17, 2010

Negligent homicide in crash


By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Johanna Ramos, center, was upset that the verdict was not manslaughter in her sonís death. He was a passenger in the speeding car that crashed.

NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Keanan Tantog

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Johanna Ramos cried inconsolably outside court yesterday, holding a large photo of the son who was killed in a 2006 high-speed car crash in Mokulē'ia.

Ramos was still terribly distraught over the death of her son, Bobby J. Gouveia, but also angry at a judge's decision that the driver in the crash is not guilty of manslaughter.

Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario ruled that Keanan Tantog, 21, was guilty of the lesser offense of negligent homicide.

"This system sucks big time," Ramos said, clutching the photo to her chest. "This is my son, I raised him for 18 years."

"It's not right to drink and drive. You're responsible for your passengers," Ramos said.

According to testimony in the nonjury trial, Tantog was the driver of the car that was alternately passing and being passed by another vehicle driven by a friend on Farrington Highway near Dillingham Field on the North Shore.

He lost control of the car while traveling very fast, flipping over and shearing off a roadside pole. Gouveia, 18, a passenger in the car, was killed. Tantog and another passenger, Alexander Kinney, were seriously injured.

Del Rosario said the case involved "a group of young, close friends from a close community" who were "essentially teenagers out partying and cruising."

"Most if not all all of them had been drinking to some degree," the judge said.

'OUR HEART BLEEDS'

Driving to Mokulē'ia, the cars involved played a game of "leapfrog" by speeding past each other, then slowing down to be passed, the judge said.

"There was no testimony from the passengers of either vehicle of racing or jockeying for position," the judge said, but noted that the game was played "at very high rates of speed."

The judge then ruled that the state had not proven that Tantog "consciously disregarded" the risks of his conduct.

Instead, he found Tantog guilty of negligent homicide.

Man-slaughter carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison, while the lesser offense carries penalties ranging from probation to 10 years behind bars.

Tantog was also convicted of negligent injury ó reduced by Del Rosario from an original count of second-degree assault.

Deputy prosecutor Kory Young said he respected the judge's decision but did not agree with it.

"I don't see how anyone in this community can think that driving drunk, speeding 100 miles an hour, speeding fast enough to cut a civil defense pole in half with your car and racing with your friends doesn't constitute a reckless disregard for the lives of people in this community," Young said.

"Our heart bleeds for Johanna Ramos and her family, that we weren't able to get them justice in this case," he said.

Young said he will seek a prison sentence of 15 years for Tantog ó 10 years for negligent homicide and five years for the negligent injury conviction.

YET TO BE SENTENCED

Jennifer Dotson, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she felt that Young had proved the manslaughter charge.

"Once you make a decision to drink and get behind the wheel of a car, you are in a reckless state of mind, you are jeopardizing the lives of your passengers, yourself, others around you," Dotson said.

"This is a heartbreaking, heartbreaking case," she said.

Cathy Hookala, mother-in-law of Tantog, said, "We're very sorry for the loss of a friend, a good friend, Bobby. Our prayers go out to his family as they begin to heal, now that closure can begin."

She said Tantog "has made a huge turnaround in his life. Unfortunately, a friend's life was lost because of it."

Del Rosario will sentence Tantog on July 14.