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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fast times on Maui; hundreds ticketed in speeding crackdown

The Maui News

WAILUKU, Maui - Three days, 364 speeding tickets.

Beyond the numbers, police said they are hoping this week's three-day speeding crackdown will remind drivers to slow down and be careful on Maui roads.

"Time will tell," said Lt. Michael Kaho'ohanohano, commander of the police Traffic Section. "It seems that people are driving a little bit slower.

"It's helped tremendously by making people recognize what they're doing out there."

In addition to the 364 speeding tickets, traffic officers issued 75 other citations for driving without a license, seat belt violations and other offenses during the stepped-up enforcement from Tuesday to Thursday, according to a preliminary count.

The "Operation SPEED" total is expected to grow once numbers are included from Lahaina and Kihei, where patrol officers also targeted speeding hot spots.

While the focus was on speeding and aggressive driving, officers found other violations and made a few arrests.

"Traffic stops are a real avenue to lead to other things - drug arrests, warrant arrests," said DUI Task Force Sgt. Jamie Becraft.

That proved to be true Thursday evening, as DUI Task Force and traffic officers had their laser speed guns focused on vehicles on a 20-mph stretch of Eha Street running through the Wailuku Parkside and Iao Parkside neighborhoods.

After issuing dozens of speeding tickets to drivers heading in both directions near Iao Loop, officers stopped a speeding driver who at first wouldn't give her name. DUI Task Force officer Mark Hada administered field sobriety tests on the woman, finding signs of drug impairment.

The woman was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs and investigation of first-degree methamphetamine trafficking after police recovered more than 1 ounce of methamphetamine, Becraft said.

After eventually telling officers her name, the 24-year-old Kahului resident was held on a no-bail warrant for a prior incident.

Another driver was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs Wednesday morning on Hana Highway in Kahului.

The highest speed measured during the enforcement was 94 mph on Haleakala Highway when DUI Task Force members including officer Jonathan Kaneshiro caught up with a motorcyclist racing downhill at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The motorcyclist had been traveling within the speed limit before passing the officers, who were in the median about three miles above the Hana Highway intersection. Suddenly, the motorcyclist revved his engine and sped downhill, Becraft said. The officers got into their police cars and followed.

Becraft said the motorcycle was still accelerating when he focused his laser gun on the vehicle to get the 94-mph reading. The officers caught up with the motorcycle when it was stopped at the traffic light at Hana Highway.

When Becraft asked the 53-year-old motorcyclist why he had challenged the officers by gunning the engine, he admitted it was "stupid."

The Makawao man was arrested for reckless driving and excessive speeding, which applies when a driver travels at least 30 mph above the speed limit or at least 81 mph on the highway.

"I know he thought there was no way we would catch up to him," Becraft said. "But this is Maui. Eventually, you're going to run into congestion."

"He jeopardized everybody on the road that day," Hada added.

Over the three days, the largest number of speeding citations were issued on Honoapiilani Highway in Maalaea, where traffic officers tagged 70 drivers, Kaho'ohanohano said. Another 42 speeding citations were issued on the highway in the Waikapu area.

Although most of the enforcement was done on major highways, Kaho'ohanohano said officers were "very successful" on Waiehu Beach Road and Eha Street, where residents were jogging and walking dogs on sidewalks while cars sped by Thursday afternoon.

Although police officers, including Hada and traffic investigator Gregg Rowe, often tag speeders on the busy street, "we get a lot of complaints here," Becraft said.

"What they're really saying is they don't realize we're coming here because it's not getting better," he said. "The community keeps complaining, but then we get the complaints about why are we enforcing.

"You just got to hope people slow down."

From the edge of the road Thursday, officers directed their laser guns to measure speeds of vehicles traveling in both directions, some 1,000 or more feet away. The highest speed measured was 41 mph.

Some drivers braked when they saw the officers but were still caught exceeding the 20-mph speed limit.

One driver passed a car that had stopped to make a turn, then sped up before braking when she saw the officers.

"It's amazing how people drive," Hada said. "People don't drive with aloha anymore. Everyone's concerned about their own agendas."

He said he heard only one complaint from the approximately 60 drivers he ticketed for speeding during the three-day operation.

"A lot of the speeders here live in this area," Hada said. "They know the speed limit. For the most part, they're not arguing."

Police used grant money to pay for overtime for part of the speed enforcement.

Noting that they were finding speeding drivers at the same locations every day, officers said enforcement has to be repeated to be a lasting deterrent.

"Operations such as this cannot be conducted every day," Kaho'ohanohano said. "But we're going to have enforcement as much as possible every day with the personnel available.

"This is not going to be the last time that we're out there. We'll get out there as often as we possibly can."

Of the seven traffic deaths on Maui County roads this year, three were directly related to speeding, police said.

A speeding ticket carries a fine of $5 per mile per hour over the speed limit, plus a fee of $47 to $57.

Drivers cited for excessive speeding by going at least 30 mph above the speed limit or at least 81 mph must appear in court. A conviction for a first offense carries penalties including a fine, driver's license suspension and 36 hours of community service or two to five days in jail. The penalties increase for subsequent convictions.