CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Daniel Vesper watched the trial proceedings yesterday as he went on trial for allegedly running over police officer Jeffrey Omai, who suffered head injuries.
Man says policeman’s injury was an accident
Trial begins in a case where a plainclothes officer was run over
A 47-year-old man accused of running over plainclothes police officer Jeffrey Omai with a stolen van to evade arrest maintains it was an accident.
Daniel Vesper III went on trial yesterday in Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall's courtroom, charged with attempted first-degree murder.
His attorney, Jeffrey Hawk, said during opening statements that Vesper didn't intend to kill Omai and suggested that he didn't see him because his attention was on other officers who had pulled up next to his van.
Omai suffered multiple skull and facial fractures and was given medication that put him in a coma for about a week until the swelling in his brain went down.
Omai was one of seven plainclothes officers who converged in three unmarked cars in the Honolulu Community College parking lot on Dec. 2, acting on a tip that Vesper was there in a white van. Vesper was being sought on warrants for several offenses, including auto theft, criminal property damage and robbery.
Deputy Prosecutor Chris Van Marter said Vesper intentionally accelerated toward Omai, ran over him and nearly killed him because he hates police officers.
Vesper could have reversed or escaped by driving around the two plainclothes officers in the van, but chose to run over Omai, Van Marter said. "This case is about a person who showed no regard for the human life of another person," he said.
Vesper was arrested a day later in Kalihi and taken to the Queen's Medical Center because he was complaining of trouble breathing.
At the hospital, Vesper apparently started yelling and cursing at the nurses and doctors for not bringing him a 7-Up, Van Marter said.
Vesper told them the reason they weren't accommodating him was because he had run over a cop, that he knew he had run over a cop and he knew the rest of the guys in the parking lot were cops, Van Marter said.
Vesper also allegedly said "I hope that cop dies" and that he would do it again if he had the chance, according to Van Marter.
But Hawk suggested there was no way Vesper knew the men in the parking lot were officers because they were in street clothes, driving unmarked cars and their badges were not easily distinguishable.
Vesper didn't say he saw the officer and tried to kill him, Hawk said. Rather, he said Omai had jumped in front of his van.
Officer Bradley Yamada testified he was getting out of the van that pulled up next to Vesper in the parking lot when they made eye contact.
Vesper shifted the van in gear, Yamada said, adding, "I'm yelling, 'Stop, police," and Vesper took off with tires screeching.
Yamada said he spotted someone running on foot toward him through the corner of his eye and realized it was Omai. He saw Omai's expression change as he realized he needed to get out of the way. Omai turned too late and got nailed, Yamada said.
Omai was unresponsive when fellow officers reached him.
They estimated Vesper was traveling at least 15 mph when he struck Omai and did not appear to make any effort to avoid him or brake.
The injuries Omai suffered created a substantial risk that he could die, Steven Nishida, a trauma surgeon at Queen's who treated Omai, testified.
While Omai's prognosis is good, Nishida said it's difficult to predict the long-term effects on an individual who has suffered a brain injury. When Omai was discharged to a rehabilitation hospital two weeks later, he had memory problems, could not tell the year or time of year and was unsteady on his feet, Nishida said.
Hawk is expected to ask the jury to find his client guilty, not of attempted murder, but of the lesser offense of assault. First-degree attempted murder is punishable by life with the possibility of parole. First-degree assault is punishable by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.