Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Getting arrested changed my life, forced me to be honest with myself and take responsibility."

Tiffini Limahai
Miss Hawaii USA 1998

Tiffini Limahai, second from left, hugged her mother, Korin Carter, yesterday while another family member shook attorney Scott Collins' hand after a judge granted her request to defer her guilty plea on drug charges.

Ex-beauty queen
avoids prison

A state judge gives her a chance
to erase her "ice" conviction

The old Miss Hawaii USA shone through yesterday as Tiffini Limahai was given a second chance by a circuit judge.

Limahai has been looking and acting more like her old self -- much like when she won the crown in 1998 -- because of drug treatment, said her mother, Korin Carter.

"Counseling and support has really blossomed her. She's my old daughter -- I can definitely see the change," Carter said.

Limahai, formerly Tiffini Hercules, smiled through tears when Circuit Judge Richard Perkins granted her request to defer her guilty plea to drug charges.

If she abides by court-imposed conditions, "in five years this case will go away, and hopefully you'll be back to where you were before all of this started," Perkins said. "Good luck."

Perkins noted that she did not have an extensive criminal record, and her history of accomplishments indicate she is not likely to commit another crime.

As tears streamed down her face, Limahai hugged her attorney and numerous family and friends before being whisked back to the Sand Island Drug Treatment Center, where she was admitted about a week after her Sept. 14 arrest.

"She's almost fainted," her attorney, Scott Collins, said after the hearing about her reaction to the judge's decision not to send her to jail. "She is overwhelmed."

She could have faced 30 years in prison.

Limahai, 30, pleaded guilty last November to possessing about $1,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia found in a backpack she discarded when police arrested her and her husband, John Limahai Jr., in Kailua as part of a three-month drug investigation.

Deputy Prosecutor Marvin Rampey opposed a deferral and recommended five years' probation with a year in jail because of the nature of the case and the amount of "ice" involved.

"We treated her like anyone else (charged with similar drug offenses), notwithstanding the fact that she was a beauty queen," Rampey said after the hearing. "We weren't lenient on her."

Limahai apologized to the court, saying she was not proud of what she had done. "I was very selfish and ignorant to the effects my addiction had on me and my family," she said. "Getting arrested changed my life, forced me to be honest with myself and take responsibility."

Limahai went to college, got married, had a child and a successful business, her mother said. "Life was just wonderful ... and then she made the wrong choices and that's why she's here today," Carter said.

Because of Limahai's prior success and her experience with ice, she is in a unique position to help educate others, especially youths, about the dangers, Collins told the court. After Limahai discussed her experience in a recent ice documentary, teens expressed how they were affected by her experience, he said.

"They seemed to understand and can relate that drugs is not selective," Collins said. "It can happen to anyone."

For now, Limahai's primary focus is on her recovery and dealing with other personal issues, Collins said. The average client stays at Sand Island for two years -- some longer, depending on the kinds of issues they need to work through and how well they do, he said.

Any violation of her deferral could result in the state requesting that she be sent to prison.

Limahai has since filed for divorce, but that case is pending. John Limahai Jr., 31, faces trial in April on drug charges.

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