Suspect in deadly Makaha hit-and-run had previous DUI dropped

(Image: HPD)
(Image: HPD)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The 21-year-old Nanakuli woman charged in a fatal Makaha crash that killed two men along Farrington Highway last week had a previous drunk driving case dropped because of court backlog, Hawaii News Now has learned.

Sierra Burns was charged Sunday night with two counts of negligent homicide, two counts of failing to render aid and one count of causing an accident involving serious bodily injury. Police believe alcohol was a factor in the February 19 crash that killed 21-year old Jonah Ragsdale and 23-year old Daniel Mole while the pair were changing a tire on the side of the road.

Police say Burns was allegedly found 30 minutes later in Nanakuli, passed out in the backseat of her damaged Volkswagen Passat. She had previously been arrested for DUI in 2016, when she was not yet old enough to legally consume alcohol.

A judgment order shows that case was dismissed due to court congestion.

"You have one, sometimes two courts to handle 20 to 50 cases on any given day," says Attorney Jonathan Burge, who represents a large number of DUI defendants.

Burge says it's especially bad on the leeward side – and he has many cases dropped in the Waianae district because of the backlog.

"There's something called Rule 48, which is a speedy trial kind of right that you have to commence the trial within 180 days," he says. "Sometimes there's just not room for it."

Arkie Koehl, a representative with Mother's Against Drunk Driving, says dismissing cases outright because there's no time for them in the court room sends a poor message to defendants about consequences.

"The greatest deterrent to drunk driving is the fear of getting caught," says Koehl. "There's a limited amount of money, limited amount of judges, limited amount of courtrooms."

Prosecutors could have decided to refile Burns' case after the 2016 dismissal, but a spokesperson said the office elected not to do so because her blood alcohol level was .094 – a fraction above the legal limit of .08 – and it was her first offense.

The judiciary says they have made improvements in recent months to ease the congestion especially in the Waianae district; hearings now start earlier there, so there's more time to get cases done, and an extra courtroom from the Family Court section is being used to deal with the overflow of traffic cases.

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