Driver pleads no contest
in fatal 2003 crash

A Waipahu man has pleaded no contest to speeding and driving while intoxicated and causing the death of two of his passengers in a 2003 crash.

James Rikeo, 29, formerly from the Marshall Islands, entered his plea last week before Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario on two counts of first-degree negligent homicide and two counts of first-degree negligent injury, said deputy public defender Ken Shimozono. Two other passengers in Rikeo's car were also seriously injured.

Had the case gone to trial, prosecutors said they would have presented evidence that Rikeo's blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.09 percent, slightly above the legal limit, and that he had been traveling 55 mph in a 35 mph zone.

According to police, Rikeo was weaving in and out of traffic near Roosevelt Avenue in the Barbers Point area at 8:30 a.m. when he lost control of the car, spun out and hit a telephone pole, said deputy prosecutor Adrian Dhakhwa.

Two passengers were ejected, one of whom died. A rear passenger also died. One of the two passengers who survived suffered permanent brain damage, Dhakhwa said. Rikeo suffered only a scratch on his hand.

Del Rosario cited Rikeo's lack of criminal record in granting his request to be released to the supervision of his sister while awaiting sentencing, Shimozono said.

Dhakhwa objected to Rikeo's release. The father of one of the crash victims had said that Rikeo fled to the Marshall Islands after the crash to avoid prosecution but later returned to Hawaii. Rikeo was indicted last October and has been in custody since then, unable to post $60,000 bail.

He faces a maximum 10-year term of imprisonment when sentenced March 30.

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