WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Police are defending an officer's decision to fire multiple times at a driver who was racing down Kuhio Avenue Wednesday night.
"It's a split-second decision," says Major Lester Hite.
"We were very lucky other people weren't injured or killed," says Deputy Chief Dave Kajihiro.
The officer -- a 6-year veteran of the force -- shot and killed 52-year old Richard Lee Nelson. Nelson lived with is mother and at least one brother in a home on a quiet street in Manoa. When contacted by phone, Nelson's mother declined comment.
HPD says Nelson rear-ended a bus right in front of the officer, then drank from an alcoholic beverage right in front of him. The officer tried to stop Nelson from taking off but -- witness say -- he made U-turns, threw the car in reverse, and drove into sidewalks.
"I think the officer was trying to prevent someone from getting killed by the driver," says Shem Lawlor, who says Kuhio Avenue was busy Wednesday night. Lawlor watched the whole thing unfold and says the officer didn't have another option.
But Bryan Estrada felt the officer could have tried something else before firing.
"He was driving away," says Estrada, "He could have shot the tires." Estrada also thought having officers block in the Volkswagen Jetta would have worked.
Ryan Buis, another witness, says the officer didn't have a choice, "If the cop didn't shoot him, how many other people would have gotten hurt."
Retired federal Drug Enforcement agent Thomas Aiu said the officer's job was to protect lives. "Once the suspect's vehicle is used as a weapon, then the officer is justified in using and deploying deadly force to protect the public by causing that individual to stop," he said.
"We never shoot to kill, we shoot to stop," Aiu added. "And in this case, he stopped the threat."
The officer is on administrative leave, standard practice after a shooting.
Nelson did have criminal cases pending, including one for DUI. The prosecutor in that case wanted him held without bail and to get a mental health evaluation. The request was denied.
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