Tavern faces inquiry after fatal H-1 crash


POSTED: Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Honolulu Liquor Commission is reopening an investigation into a bar that allegedly overserved a local playwright before she crashed head-on into another car on the H-1 freeway.


The case was shut after the bar closed, but investigators learned recently that another bar opened using the same liquor license.

Investigators believe Lisa Matsumoto had about 16 drinks at Slammers Bar & Grill, at 1683 Kalakaua Ave., between 11:30 p.m. and 2 a.m. Dec. 14, 2007.

About 90 minutes after Slammers closed, Matsumoto drove in the wrong direction of the H-1 eastbound lanes and smashed into another car near the Houghtailing offramp. Matsumoto died in the crash, and the other driver was seriously injured.

Investigators say they traced back from the crash to where Matsumoto had been drinking with the help of a new program called TRACE, or Target Responsibility for Alcohol-Connected Emergencies.

They hope the program will help them find other licensed premises that overserve patrons in connection with alcohol-related car crashes.

Liquor Commission Administrator Dewey Kim said TRACE also is being used to investigate the triple fatal crash at the Wilson Tunnel last month. In that crash, all three victims had been drinking, and the driver's blood alcohol content was 0.225, almost triple the legal limit of 0.08.

A TRACE investigation uses credit card receipts and witness statements to lead investigators from the crash back to where the drinking took place.

The commission can then take action against the bar's liquor licensee.

“;We want to make sure that if there was a problem at the bar, to make sure they take steps to not give them so much alcohol,”; he said.

According to state law, a licensee cannot serve alcohol to a person who is already intoxicated. Any licensee caught serving too much alcohol to a patron can face a fine of up to $2,000 or lose the license.

Before finishing their investigation, investigators heard Slammers was closing. In August the bar Martini Zoo opened under the same license.

The owner's attorney had told the Liquor Commission that “;she was going away, that she would give up her license and she would not reopen,”; Kim said.

There was enough information to find Slammers guilty of overserving Matsumoto, said Chief Investigator Jeff Smith.

“;It would be safe to say they probably would have been issued a violation for overservice,”; he said.

Using witness testimony, investigators found Matsumoto went straight to Slammers from a play in Manoa.

“;It appeared as though she consumed most of her drinks at Slammers,”; Smith said.

No evidence showed her drinking after she left the bar. She left at about closing time, took a friend home, then crashed on the freeway, he said.

According to an autopsy, Matsumoto's blood alcohol content was .242, three times the legal limit. With her weight, that meant she consumed about 16 drinks while at the bar, Smith said.

Mal Ye Kim, who owns the liquor license, said Slammers closed at the end of a three-year contract with the bar manager. She said she never told the commission that she was shutting down.

The manager, Nadya Yamasaki, told her that Matsumoto had a couple of drinks and left the bar at about 1:30 a.m., Kim said. She was fine when she left and must have drunk somewhere else, Kim said.

Kim declined to comment about the Liquor Commission's investigation.

Since Slammers closed, Yamasaki has opened her own bar, Kanpai Bar & Grill, on Ward Avenue. Yamasaki also declined to comment on the Liquor Commission's investigation.

“;She was a great friend and we just miss her greatly,”; Yamasaki said of Matsumoto.

Matsumoto's family did not return calls for comment.

Meanwhile, Cassie Olaivar, whom Matsumoto hit, has since undergone five surgeries on her leg and might have another one because of continual pain.

Matsumoto's family members visited her in the hospital, and her sister called once after she checked out.

Olaivar, a mother of two daughters, can walk but must continue physical therapy and has not returned to her job at a Waikiki hotel. Her lawyers are telling her to focus on her health while they work on getting “;a lot”; of medical bills paid that Matsumoto's car insurance did not cover.

“;I really don't know what's going on,”; she said. “;All I see is bills coming in.”;

She is frustrated that no one has come forward with the full story of where Matsumoto had been drinking, and supports the Liquor Commission's investigation.

“;I'm going to have to live with this for the rest of my life because my body still aches,”; she said. “;It'll be good to know the truth.”;