Officer recalls pursuit before van struck him
The driver is on trial for running over a member of a Kalihi plainclothes unit
Police officer Jeffrey Omai remembers running toward an escaping van that ran over him and almost took his life less than a year ago at Honolulu Community College.
But he remembers little else after that.
Omai testified for less than a half-hour yesterday in the Circuit Court trial of Daniel Vesper III, 47, charged with first-degree attempted murder. If convicted, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During Omai's testimony, neither he nor Vesper appeared to make any eye contact. Vesper sat emotionless at the defense table, occasionally rocking back and forth.
Three years into his career with the Honolulu Police Department, Omai had volunteered to join the Kalihi crime reduction unit, or CRU -- a plainclothes investigative unit that helps locate wanted suspects.
Omai was one of seven CRU officers riding in three unmarked police cars that were dispatched to the community college Dec. 2 on a tip that Vesper was there in a white van.
Soon after arriving, Omai said they saw the suspect sitting inside a white van parked in one of three parking lots off Dillingham Boulevard.
When given the order to move in, Omai said, he and his partner got out of their unmarked van at some point near the parking lot entrance to cover Vesper in case he got out and ran.
"Last thing I remember is running towards the van," Omai said, his voice barely discernible. His next recollection was waking up sometime in early January in the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, where he underwent physical, speech and occupational therapy until his discharge in late February.
He has no memory of his two-week stay in the Queen's Medical Center, where he was in a medically induced coma for a week and had a hole drilled in his skull to reduce the swelling and pressure in his brain.
During questioning by defense attorney Jeffrey Hawk, Omai said he ran toward Vesper's van but denied trying to stop it with his body.
"I would never try and stop a moving vehicle with my body, sir," he said. "That would be dangerous, sir."
Earlier, officer Shawn Reasoner had testified that while guarding Vesper at Queen's Hospital a day after he was arrested, Vesper had uttered words to the effect that he had hit the officer because the "cop was trying to be a hero for jumping in front of his vehicle."
In the only show of emotion during his brief testimony, Omai chuckled when describing battle scars he sustained from the incident -- including what he called dings in the back of his head, permanent scars on his forehead and a somewhat smaller right eye that he admitted makes him "look a little weird sometimes."
Omai remains on injured leave from the department and cannot say for sure if and when he will be back. "I'm hoping to make it back, sir," he said.
A doctor testified earlier that while his prognosis is good, long-term effects from his brain injury are difficult to predict.
Questions posed to Omai by Hawk suggested that the casual observer could not have known that Omai was a police officer engaged in official duties based on his attire at the time.
Omai said he wore a T-shirt with shorts and running shoes that afternoon. Under his shirt he wore his bulletproof vest, and on his belt he carried the usual equipment, including handcuffs, flashlight, extra ammo and a holstered firearm. His badge hung freely from a lanyard around his neck.
At least one officer, Bradley Yamada, had testified he yelled, "Stop, police," after making eye contact with Vesper and saw him putting the white van in gear. Other officers said they heard Yamada ordering Vesper to stop.