Soldier gets
year in jail
for fatal crash

A Hawaii Army National Guard soldier was sentenced yesterday to a year in jail for driving while intoxicated, speeding and causing the death of a cousin in a car crash more than two years ago.

Circuit Judge Richard Pollack said he considered Micah Steele's lack of criminal record, impending deployment to Iraq and letters from the victim's family asking that he not be sent to prison.

He sentenced Steele to 10 years of probation, with one year in jail.

Pollack also allowed Steele, who was expected to fly to Louisiana last night for further training before he is deployed to Kuwait and eventually Iraq, to delay his jail term until he returns from duty.

Steele, 34, pleaded guilty to reckless manslaughter in September for causing the death of his cousin, Henry K. Smythe, in a three-car crash in February 2002. Prosecutors say he was driving between 78 to 90 mph.

Steele also pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree assault for injuries sustained by another male passenger in his car and the driver in another car.

Steele, who was driving his cousin's car, ran a red light at Kahekili and Likelike highways and struck a car driven by Jennifer Kamaka. His cousin, who was sitting in the front seat, was ejected from the car. Kamaka suffered a broken left arm and pelvis, and torn ligaments in her hip. The passenger, another relative, suffered fractures.

Citing the seriousness of cases involving individuals driving while drunk and speeding, Deputy Prosecutor Franklin Pacarro Jr. had asked that Steele be sentenced to the maximum 20 years' imprisonment for manslaughter and one year each for the assaults.

Steele apologized to the court and the victims' families, saying he deeply regrets what he did. He said he no longer drinks and has tried to speak to young people and others about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Deputy public defender Gary Oakes said Steele and two others in his car all had been drinking and that Steele ended up driving because he was deemed the least drunk but was unfamiliar with the roads.

"He was very remorseful for the victims and family members and Ms. Kamaka in the other car," Oakes said.

Pollack said he did not question Steele's remorse but called his actions at the time "inexcusable."

"It's compounded by the fact your drinking and speeding made your car basically an instrument of death," with consequences that can never be erased, Pollack said.

Steele was also ordered to pay $4,629 in restitution to Kamaka. He will begin serving his prison term upon his return in July 2006 or earlier if he is discharged sooner.

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