Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Traffic lights worked,
engineer testifies

No fault in the signal at Pali
and School was detected
before Arakawa's crash

By Debra Barayuga

The traffic light at Pali Highway and School Street was working properly the night of Oct. 7, 2000, when then-police officer Clyde Arakawa collided with another car, killing 19-year-old Dana Ambrose, a city traffic signal engineer testified yesterday.

Ty Fukumitsu, whose duties include traffic light design and maintenance, said maintenance records show there was no malfunction detected at the Pali and School Street traffic light just before midnight, when the crash occurred.

"The traffic signal system was working in perfect order," Fukumitsu said.

Arakawa, charged with manslaughter in Ambrose's death, maintains he had the green light and was not speeding when his Ford Thunderbird entered the intersection, striking Ambrose's Honda Civic.

The state contends Arakawa was intoxicated and speeding when he ran the red light and smashed into Ambrose's car.

Had there been a conflicting light sequence -- such as a green light for the Pali northbound traffic and a green light for the School Street westbound traffic -- a monitor would have detected it within seconds and immediately stopped the traffic light controller, causing the lights to flash, Fukumitsu said.

The monitor, installed at 700 intersections, works 24 hours and is considered a "very reliable device" for detecting light sequences that are not permitted, he said. In the 14 years they have been in use here, the monitors have not missed a conflicting light sequence, Fukumitsu said.

While a short circuit did occur after the light pole was struck and toppled off its base, there was no conflicting light sequence, Fukumitsu said.

The traffic light fixture ended up on the hood of Arakawa's car after the crash. Motorists who had taken the H-1 eastbound offramp and stopped at the Pali light mauka of the Nuuanu YMCA testified earlier the lights went out shortly after they heard a crash.

Fukumitsu also testified that based on the traffic signal sequence on the Pali, someone driving north on the Pali would have encountered a red light at the H-1 offramp mauka of the YMCA, as well as the School Street intersection.

Questioning by city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle appeared to suggest that based on that timing sequence, Arakawa ran not one, but two red lights before hitting Ambrose's car.

Sgt. David Talon, who headed the investigation into the crash, testified yesterday that he notified the Central Receiving desk where Arakawa was processed after his arrest to not only book Arakawa on suspicion of driving under the influence, but also for first-degree negligent homicide.

Talon's decision was based on several factors, including the death that resulted from the crash in which alcohol was suspected and that the damage to Arakawa's car was not consistent with a car traveling at the posted speed limit of 25 mph.

Today, Michael Ostendorp, Arakawa's attorney, questioned why the bulbs recovered from the traffic light assembly were not turned over to evidence immediately after the accident.

Experts are expected to testify that the condition of the filaments can indicate who had the red and who had the green light at the time of the crash.

Talon said he secured the bulbs in a locked desk drawer only he had access to so the risk of damage would be minimized and so he would have access to them during the investigation. He turned them over to the evidence custodian in February 2001 after he had completed his analysis and before the case was turned over to prosecutors in March 2001.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin