Pedestrian death
brings 10-year term

A Circuit Court judge sentenced a man to 10 years in prison for driving while drunk, speeding and killing a 7-year-old boy who was crossing the highway near Nanakuli three years ago.

Earl John Franca Jr., 31, of Waianae pleaded no contest in July to first-degree negligent homicide for killing Ethan Aaron Thomas on June 8, 2001.

Thomas, who had just turned 7 a week before, was crossing Farrington Highway near the Hawaiian Electric Co.'s Kahe power plant with his father and sister when he and his dad were hit. The boy's skull was fractured, his back was broken in three places and both legs were broken.

Franca, who has no prior felony convictions, was facing either probation with up to one year in jail or 10 years' imprisonment.

In handing down the harshest sentence, Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario noted that Franca has had prior traffic violations and has a history of substance abuse or alcohol issues that he has not addressed.

While alcohol and speed were clearly factors in the accident, what stands out is the absence of responsibility on Franca's part, Del Rosario said.

Not only was Franca driving without a license, but the car was not insured and there was no safety check sticker. In addition, there were indications that he was drinking while driving. Prosecutors had said there was an open box of Budweiser in the car and an opened bottle of beer spilled on the driver's-side floor.

"In the court's view, a sentence of probation with one year in jail under these circumstances and history would not reflect the seriousness of this offense nor promote respect for the law or provide just punishment," Del Rosario said.

"This is the day I've waited for over three years now," a tearful Patricia Thomas, the boy's mother, said outside the courtroom. "I feel bad for his family ... but I'll never have my son back."

Ethan was the second of her three children. Her daughter, who witnessed the accident, is undergoing counseling.

She said the tragedy sends a message that "drinking and driving don't mix -- never has and never will," she said.

In the courtroom, Franca apologized to the court and offered condolences to the Thomases.

Franca's attorney, Frank Fernandez, said his client contends he did not see the boy and his father crossing but accepts responsibility for the boy's death.

He noted that in April, Franca completed an alcohol assessment and is staying at a "Clean and Sober" house, separating himself from his family while trying to deal with his alcohol addiction.

But Deputy Prosecutor Adrian Dhakwa called Franca's efforts "too little, too late" and that the outcome could have been different had he taken steps after the accident rather than waiting after he was indicted in 2003 and just months before he was sentenced to try resolving his long-standing issues with alcohol.

Franca was driving 62 mph in a 45 mph zone, and his blood alcohol level was 0.160 -- twice the legal limit at the time of the accident, Dhakwa said.

A lawsuit Thomas filed against the city and state alleging problems with Farrington Highway is pending.



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