Lawsuit settled over abused girl
By John Burnett
A settlement has been reached in a Big Island civil lawsuit filed on behalf of an abused girl found in a coma with burn marks and maggot-infested wounds.
The settlement in the lawsuit, which was filed by the victim's grandfather and biological father, came at the 11th hour, as the case was set for a nonjury trial Tuesday before Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura. Defendants included the girl's caregiver, Hyacinth Poouahi; the girl's biological mother, Crystal McGrath, who left the girl in Poouahi's care; and the state departments of Education and Human Services.
Honolulu attorney Arthur Park, who represents the girl's paternal grandfather, Bienvenido Cabanting, declined on Tuesday to release terms of the settlement, believed to be in the millions of dollars.
The lawsuit alleged the Department of Education breached its duty of care to the girl.
Park argued in a Feb. 11 hearing before Nakamura that a teach- er, a guidance counselor and a former DOE behavioral specialist all reported suspected abuse of the girl to Keonepoko Elementary School Principal Kathleen Romero. According to the lawsuit, Romero testified in a deposition that nobody reported the abuse to her and that she learned of it in media reports.
Poouahi was sentenced in February 2009 to a 20-year prison term for abusing the girl. The victim was 9 when the abuse began in Poouahi's 'Ainaloa home in late 2004. The girl was in a coma for several weeks in a Honolulu hospital after she was found Feb. 7, 2005, by Fire Department paramedics. Today, at age 15, she is severely speech- and hearing-impaired, blind in one eye, walks with a limp and has facial disfigurement.
The girl was also tortured psychologically, being forced to eat cockroaches and Froot Loops mixed with chili peppers.
Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville called Poouahi's criminal trial "the most difficult case I have handled in my career." Damerville said during Poouahi's sentencing that personnel at Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu told him the girl's ordeal was "the worst case of abuse they had ever seen where the victim lived."
He said her medical treatment cost taxpayers nearly $1.43 million.
Park told the Tribune-Herald this month that the girl has since received additional treatment and therapy worth about $2.1 million from the charitable Shriners Hospital for Women and Children in Honolulu.