Traffic violators owe Hawaii taxpayers tens of millions in unpaid fines, records show
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Delinquent drivers owe state taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in unpaid traffic fines, according to a Hawaii News Now analysis of public records.
This investigation revealed the debts have been sitting for years without efforts by law enforcement to collect. Meanwhile, many who owe money just keep driving — and putting others on the road at risk.
One of those deadbeat drivers, for example, is charged with manslaughter for the deaths of Ron and Michelle Hartman, who were visiting from Virginia when they were hit head-on in Kahuku.
Brennan Canumay, the driver charged with recklessly causing their deaths, had been illegally driving for years. He’s now in jail awaiting trial for the latest of his traffic crimes.
‘No consequences for their actions’
Attorney Patrick McPherson said Canumay is not an isolated case.
“It’s this system where we have a black hole,” McPherson said. “We have these problem drivers that get ticket after ticket after ticket and there’s no consequences for their actions.”
Before he allegedly killed the Hartmans, court records show Canumay went year after year regularly violating traffic laws. He was pulled over at least 20 times since 2014.
In the early years, he paid a few fines — $840 worth.
But after that, an analysis showed, he pretty much ignored the traffic enforcement system.
Eventually, he owed $3,376 in fines on the day of the wreck.
In eight years, he’d only had four court appearances — the latest in 2021, when he owed thousands to the state’s collection agency.
Attorney Pat McPherson says deadbeat drivers aren’t deterred by loss of their license or damaged credit.
“There’s an abundance of people here doing that,” McPherson said.
“So there is no reason to pay the fine because the only penalty is you can’t do those, so therefore, ‘Who cares? I am just not going to pay. There’s no penalties for not paying.”
And the unpaid fines continue to add up — year after year.
Tens of millions in unpaid fines
Hawaii News Now requested records from the state Judiciary’s collections agency referrals and collections back to 2011. That year, more than $15 million was sent to the collection agency and $8 million was paid. So the unpaid balance rose $7 million.
The ratio of referrals to collections varies widely year to year.
In 2017, courts sent the most ever to collection — more than $22 million — and collected about more than $9 million. That means about $13 million was added to the unpaid balance.
All the uncollected money over those 11 years came to $81.7 million — money traffic violators still owe the taxpayers.
‘Staggering’ amounts unaccounted for
The same process of referrals and collections goes back years before so the total amount of pending collections is certainly higher than that $82 million.
The amounts left state Sen. Chris Lee, who has chaired both the Transportation and Judiciary Committees, astounded.
“Just the sheer volume of money that’s involved here that we’re talking about is staggering,” Lee said. “You could build a brand new high school in Hawaii for that much money.”
Lee said he will be looking for ways to improve the situation.
“Clearly, in Hawaii, we’ve identified there’s a lot of potential to do better. And that’s something that we really have to dive into this coming year,” Lee said.
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