Crash fatalities net
1 year in jail

The driver admits he
was drunk when his car
spun out of control

A Waipahu man who admitted to driving recklessly while intoxicated and causing the death of two passengers in February 2003 was sentenced yesterday to five years' probation with a year in jail.

James Rikeo, 29, formerly from the Marshall Islands, pleaded no contest in January to two counts of first-degree negligent homicide and two counts of first-degree negligent injury to two other passengers. He was facing a maximum 10-year sentence.

Killed in the crash were Neilizsha Milne Okney, 26, of the Marshall Islands, who had accompanied her son here so he could receive medical treatment. Also killed was Clena Kaios, 22.

Prosecutors had asked for the maximum 10 years in prison in each of the deaths and five years each for injuries sustained by two other passengers, to be served consecutively for a total of 30 years.

In sentencing Rikeo to probation and rejecting the prosecutor's request for back-to-back terms, acting Circuit Judge David Lo said Rikeo does not have a lengthy criminal or traffic history that indicates a pattern of bad driving.

"Without question, this was a tremendous tragedy for all sides," Lo said. However, he said, he believes Rikeo when he told the court that he has stopped drinking since the crash and is remorseful for what he did.

Rikeo, through a Marshallese interpreter, expressed his "deepest apologies" to the families of the victims and asked the court to give him another chance at bettering his life.

Deputy Prosecutor Adrian Dhakhwa said the circumstances of the crash were particularly egregious in that it resulted in the death of two people and serious injuries to two others. Police said Rikeo's blood alcohol level was 0.09 percent, slightly above the legal limit.

According to police, Rikeo was going 55 mph in a 35-mph zone near Roosevelt Avenue in Barbers Point when he lost control of his car, spun out and hit a telephone pole. Two of his passengers were ejected. One of the ejected passengers and another passenger died. Two other passengers were seriously injured.

While Rikeo does not have a lengthy criminal record, he had been cited previously for driving without a license, speeding and, two weeks before the crash, with having no car insurance, Dhakhwa said.

Rikeo, according to reports, admitted to drinking six to 12 beers twice a month -- an indication that he engages in binge drinking and does not believe he has a drinking problem, Dhakhwa said. "It tells the state this could very well happen again in the future."

Deputy Public Defender Edward Aquino had argued for probation, saying Rikeo wants the opportunity to give back to the community for the lives he took.

Rikeo has continued to work, has not touched a drop of alcohol since the crash and complied with all the conditions of supervised release, Aquino said. And while Rikeo has not undergone any substance abuse treatment, the tragedy has affected his life so profoundly that he is determined not to repeat it, he added.

While nothing will bring his daughter back, Philip Okney, father of one of the victims, said he is satisfied with the court's decision and that his daughter would have understood had she still been alive.

Rikeo has already served approximately 2 1/2 months in jail after he was unable to post bail following his arrest. He likely will likely be out in 9 1/2 months, prosecutors said.

Following his release, Rikeo will be required to pay $1,823 in restitution to the Okney family and perform 100 hours of community service. He is prohibited from consuming or possessing alcohol or illegal drugs.

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