Hula instructor makes plea deal
HILO » Big Island hula instructor Ray Fonseca will receive no more than six months in prison for a motor vehicle negligent homicide, according to a plea agreement approved yesterday by Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura.
Sentencing is set for April 10.
Fonseca, 52, who also spells his first name as Rae, has led the students in his Halau Hula O Kahikilaulani to frequent victories at the annual Merrie Monarch hula competition in Hilo.
According to court documents, Fonseca was driving a sport utility vehicle in the substandard Eden Roc subdivision south of Hilo on the night of Dec. 13, 2003, when he ran into an oncoming mo-ped ridden by Michael Spens, 59. Spens died early the next morning.
Fonseca was driving on Spens' side of the narrow subdivision street. But according to police, the lane Fonseca should have been in is narrow and badly paved, and Fonseca's attorney, Andrew Wilson, said nearly all traffic uses the single good lane of the street.
At Fonseca's change-of-plea hearing yesterday, Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville said Spens was riding a mo-ped that had its engine power boosted but lacked a corresponding strengthening of its brakes.
Fonseca pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree negligent homicide. The agreement calls for him to receive five years' probation besides up to six months in prison, although he will get credit for time already served.
Fonseca was originally charged with first-degree negligent homicide and driving under the influence of an intoxicant, a charge that was dropped in the agreement.
Wilson said Fonseca's hula teaching has contributed to the preservation of Hawaiian culture for many years, and the hope is that the plea agreement will allow him to continue to contribute to the community.
A lawsuit filed by Spens' daughter is pending.