Nanakuli family that lost son to drunk driver pushes for ‘zero tolerance’ law

Nanakuli family who lost son to drunk driver pushes for ‘zero-tolerance law’

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The family of a 19-year-old Nanakuli man killed by a drunk driver in 2016 is pushing for a “zero tolerance” law that would allow officers to arrest a driver with “any measurable amount of alcohol" in their blood.

Ed Werner’s son, Kaulana, was fatally struck in Nanakuli. A jury convicted Myisha Lee Armitage for negligent homicide and fleeing the scene of an accident. She learns her punishment on Friday.

Werner said more needs to be done to keep impaired drivers off the road.

"What can we do to bring safety knowing that Halloween is a time when our keiki, our kupuna, the parents, everybody goes to the road,” said Ed Werner.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 39% of traffic fatalities in Hawaii in 2017 involved alcohol. In 2018, the figure was 30%.

The Werner family is hoping to lower those numbers even more.

“We have laws in the state of Hawaii. When you break the law, those are the kinds of stuff that can happen,” Werner said.

The Werner family helped to pass Kaulana’s Law, which authorizes the courts to extend prison terms for offenders convicted of first-degree negligent homicide when the offender fails to stop to render aid to the victim.

They are now back more changes to the law, including the zero tolerance measure.

In every state, it is illegal for non-commercial drivers age 21 and older to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is also an emergency room doctor, said he would support a stricter limit.

“I believe that we’re going to first go to a .05 blood alcohol,” said Green. “The legislative process will play out. But I’ll be them with all the way.”

Meanwhile, the Werners also want prosecutors to push harder for manslaughter charges in these cases.

Victor Bakke, former prosecutor now high-profile defense attorney, is skeptical that proposal will succeed.

“The negligent homicide is actually just easier to prove,” said Bakke. “If we get rid of that negligent homicide and charge everybody with manslaughter, you’re gonna get more not guiltys.”

In Hawaii, negligent homicide is a class B felony, punishable between probation to 10 years behind bars. Manslaughter is a class A felony, punishable between 20 years to life in prison.

Bakke believes the Werners will have better success changing the penalty range of the current negligent homicide law, like Washington’s vehicular homicide law, which is a class A felony punishable up to life imprisonment.

"What I think these people should be focusing on is not trying to change that law, but trying to increase that penalty and make it equivalent to the manslaughter penalty," said Bakke.

While the Werner family agrees no punishment will bring their son back, they are hoping the community will rally with them to make Hawaii safer.

“The emptiness we have as the holidays approach, sleepless nights, watching my wife, it’s hard. We’re gonna have to live with this emptiness for the rest of our lives, until we die too,” Ed Werner said.

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