ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
A 20-year-old Mitsubishi pickup truck belonging to Alisa Meafou of Hilo is the first vehicle seized in Hawaii from a driver with more than three drunken driving convictions in five years.
Prosecutor ready to drop hammer on truck
HILO » Big Island Deputy Prosecutor Mitch Roth has just become the first official in the state to confiscate a vehicle from a habitual drunken driver.
Now, at a county fair, he wants to give sledgehammer-wielding members of the public a chance to smash the 20-year-old Mitsubishi pickup truck to scrap metal.
This is not whimsy on Roth's part.
He wants everyone in the state to know: three strikes for drunken driving and your car is out.
Roth would be even happier if the next car seized is a pricey Mercedes. Drunken drivers would get the message, he said.
Back in 2005 the Legislature passed the law saying anyone with three drunken driving convictions in five years would lose their vehicle.
Mitsubishi owner Alisa Meafou, 23, of Hilo might have been like other three-time offenders when he was arrested in July, but he turned into an example.
Newly hired Deputy Prosecutor Mike Kest, who prosecuted Meafou, turned to Roth, in charge of seizing drug vehicles, and suggested the 2005 drinking law should be enforced.
"We're going to do it," Roth said.
"That's a great thing," said Carol McNamee, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Hawaii. "Being the first does take some courage."
However, the law is "cumbersome," Roth said.
A drug offender's vehicle can be seized as soon as the suspect is arrested. A drunken driver has to be convicted first, and the conviction has to be the third in five years. And the prosecutor -- like Kest -- has to recognize those facts and turn the case over to a specialist who handles forfeitures -- like Roth.
Then there is the question of what to do with the vehicle until the forfeiture is final. Honolulu police had opposed the forfeiture law in 2005 until the Legislature put the state Department of Transportation in charge of storing vehicles.
But since no one ever enforced the law until Kest came along, the department had never set up storage locations.
Roth now has to straighten that out. He also has to get the state attorney general to review the case to be sure everything was done right.
Roth does not just want to seize cars. He wants to save lives.
"If you don't learn from three times in five years, the likelihood you're going to hit someone and kill them is pretty great," he said.