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StarBulletin.com

Driver disputes HPD account of collision with police vehicle


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POSTED: Monday, July 20, 2009

Differing accounts of a traffic collision involving a police car have raised old questions about the safe response of emergency vehicles.

The latest incident occurred July 6 when a blue-and-white police cruiser smashed into the side of a Toyota Corolla at the intersection of Hotel and Bishop streets.

University of Hawaii medical student Knewton Sakata, who was driving the Toyota, said he never heard a siren nor saw any flashing lights and is incensed that he was given a ticket for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle.

“;These guys are really trying to cover this up,”; Sakata said. “;I am absolutely upset.”;

Officer Jonathan Kendrick, who was responding to a weapons call at Aala Park at 9:35 a.m., said he did not see the Toyota until it was too late.

The other driver, he said, “;continued through the intersection, causing me to slam on my brakes and impact his driver's side,”; adding, “;I could not see the vehicle coming due to the cars blocking my view on Bishop Street.”;

The officer who issued the citation said the Toyota, heading makai, hit the police car's front as it was proceeding “;slowly”; through the intersection “;with blue lights flashing and siren chirping.”;

Two witnesses corroborated Sakata's story.

“;I was shocked that they even cited him,”; said Nicole Musetti, a student at Remington College who was standing on the street with friends. “;The cop had all his buddies around and ganged up on this guy. My friends and I were just horrified to see this happen.”;

Musetti said the police driver did not do enough to signal his presence.

“;I saw the cop flash his lights once before he got to the intersection,”; she said. “;Never once did he have his siren on.”;

Another witness, who wished to remain anonymous, said the officer gunned his engine and slammed into the Corolla, and that the police car had neither siren nor lights on.

If the officer had inched through the intersection as reported, his bumper would not have fallen off, she said.

Sakata said the police car's front-end damage and the Toyota's driver's-side damage are consistent with the officer's car hitting his, not the other way around, as initially reported in the Star-Bulletin.

Sakata, Musetti and the other witness contacted the Star-Bulletin to dispute a brief article, written with information from police, that said the Toyota struck the police car, which had its blue lights and siren on.

Other witnesses who made statements to police saw and heard things differently.

Craig Auyong said that while waiting for a bus in front of Longs Drugs, he saw the police car with lights on and heard the officer “;popping his air horn.”;

Mike Trombetta saw lights but heard no siren. He said the police car was inching its way through the intersection when the Toyota entered the intersection and the police car broadsided it.

He said he saw “;many cars traveling makai on Bishop Street, and some stopped while others did not.”;

A police spokeswoman declined to comment because of a continuing investigation. Officer Kendrick did not return a phone call to the Star-Bulletin.

Neither Sakata nor Kendrick was injured.

Police allege Sakata violated Hawaii Revised Statutes 291C-65, which says, “;Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle making use of audible and visual signals, the driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way.”;

But the statute goes on to say that the drivers of emergency vehicles cannot proceed without considering the safety of everyone on the street.

In February 1998, Tracey Teruya, a summer intern at the Queen's Medical Center, was driving home to Makiki Heights when her car was broadsided by a fire engine at Wilder Avenue and Kewalo Street. She died from the impact. Her family won a $1.25 million out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit against the city.