Monday, August 30, 2004

Favoritism case
focuses on former
HPD captain

Nuuanu neighbors say the cancer
patient is guilty of hit-and-run

The calm of a July night in a secluded Nuuanu neighborhood was pierced by the blaring horn of an approaching Mercedes-Benz.

The black sedan sped past several homes, hit a Great Dane on its evening walk, then clipped the dog's owner as he tried to signal the car to stop, witnesses said.

The 6-foot-9, 300-pound victim, raising his hand while standing in the road near a street light, had to jump away at the last second -- and even then the car swerved toward him, its side mirror grazing his midsection, two witnesses and the victim said. The victim, Jason Schlenske, 33, and his dog, Koa, were not seriously injured.

"The guy was driving like a maniac," Schlenske said.

The driver, Daniel David Lee, 76, a former Honolulu police captain and decorated Korean War veteran, was arrested that night on suspicion of second-degree attempted murder.

Despite eyewitness accounts from Schlenske, his wife and a neighbor, the attempted murder rap -- a felony -- didn't stick.

Prosecutors decided they had only enough evidence to charge Lee with second-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor.

Lee has yet to plead to the charge. His arraignment, scheduled for next month, has been postponed twice, most recently last week, because he is undergoing treatment for colon cancer.

His lawyer, Wayne Sakai, said his client should be facing a petty misdemeanor charge at most, noting that reckless endangerment, by law, applies only to incidents involving death or serious bodily injury. Sakai said he plans to ask the Prosecutor's Office to dismiss the charge against his client or reduce it to a petty misdemeanor.

In some instances, prosecutors can charge a suspect with a different offense from what the person was arrested for, based on the evidence and what they believe can be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt."

But in this case, the victim and his wife, Donna Wu, 32, said they believe Lee got preferential treatment because of his status as a former law enforcement official, decorated war veteran and elderly man suffering from cancer. The result, they said, was the reduced charge.

"That's how I see it," Wu said. "Absolutely."

Prosecutors deny any favoritism.

"That's absolutely not true," said Renee Sonobe Hong, deputy prosecutor for the city.

The Prosecutor's Office looked at all the evidence and determined that reckless endangerment was the appropriate charge, Sonobe Hong said.

She declined to discuss specifics of the case because it is pending.

Lee spent about 14 years on the police force, resigning as a captain in 1971 when he was named head of the state attorney general's organized crime unit. He held that post until 1985.

Schlenske, Wu and their neighbor Robyn Hugar, 35, said they were dumbfounded when Lee was charged with the lesser offense, especially given what they witnessed about 9:30 p.m. July 7 on Kamaaina Place, a short cul-de-sac tucked against a hillside in upper Nuuanu.

Jason Schlenske stands where Koa, the Great Dane, got hit by a motorist at 3381 Kamaaina Place. With them is his wife, Hawaii Army National Guard 2nd Lt. Donna Wu.

"He hit a dog and he hit a person. It just doesn't make sense to me," said Hugar, who was walking her dog, Lucy, at the time of the incident.

After Koa, a 7-year-old Great Dane that stands about 3 1/2 feet tall, was hit in front of the couple's Kamaaina Place home, the Mercedes sped to the end of the cul-de-sac, turned around, then headed back down the narrow, sidewalk-less street, the three neighbors said.

After quickly checking his dog, Schlenske said he moved to the middle of the road and raised his hand to motion the car to stop so they could sort out what just happened. Because the Mercedes wasn't slowing, Schlenske's neighbor and wife started yelling for him to get out of the way, they said.

Lee not only failed to slow down when he saw Schlenske, who was wearing a white tank top and yellow shorts, but the driver hit the accelerator and the car picked up speed, the three neighbors said. "You could hear the engine rev and his tires spin," said Schlenske, who estimated the sedan was going about 35 to 40 mph in an area where the speed limit is 25 mph.

As Schlenske jumped to the side, the Mercedes swerved in his direction, the three said.

"The wheels definitely did turn toward Jay," said Hugar, referring to her neighbor of about five years. She said she saw Schlenske get hit and land on the hood of a car parked on the side of the street. Kamaaina Place is only wide enough for a single car to pass through if other vehicles are parked to one side.

Standing under the illumination of the streetlight, Schlenske said he made eye contact with Lee immediately before jumping away. "I could see he was looking right at me."

Schlenske said he was told by an attorney in the Prosecutor's Office that the difficulty in bringing an attempted murder charge is proving the suspect's intent. Asked what would have had to have happened in his case to bring such a charge, Schlenske said he was told Lee basically would've had to put his car in reverse and attempt to run him down a second time. "That's ludicrous," Schlenske said.

Lee was unavailable to comment because of his deteriorating medical condition, according to his attorney. Sakai said his client is suffering from his latest bout with cancer.

Sakai declined to comment on the three neighbors' accounts of what happened.

"Unfortunately, this is a criminal charge, and (my client) is going to have his day in court," Sakai said. "At the time of his trial, he's going to tell his story."

The story got worse after Schlenske was struck, according to the three neighbors' accounts.

Lee didn't slow down or stop to offer assistance, but continued onto intersecting Kamaaina Drive, pulling into a driveway only several homes away, they said. They said they didn't realize Lee was a neighbor, having never had any interaction with him before.

Lee parked his car and, from his yard, started yelling at the trio, cursing them and threatening to kill them, the three said. Several times, Lee dared them to call authorities, saying the police "can't touch me" and "can't do anything to me," the neighbors quoted the former officer as yelling.

Concerned about Lee's behavior, Schlenske and Hugar sought temporary restraining orders against him the next day, which the court granted. But last week, a District Court judge approved a motion by Lee's attorney to dismiss requests to make the restraining orders permanent.

Although Schlenske wasn't seriously hurt, he said the July incident aggravated an old back injury, and he's seeking treatment for it. Koa, he added, is still moving gingerly, the after-effect of being clipped from behind by the car.

Sakai said he has made arrangements for his client's insurance carrier to deal with Wu's carrier over a medical claim she has since filed on behalf of her husband.

The fallout from the July incident comes at a trying time for Wu, who is a second lieutenant in the Hawaii Army National Guard. She leaves Sunday for training and eventual deployment to Iraq.

Department of the Prosecuting Attorney

Honolulu Police Department



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