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County to pay $1M settlement

LIHUE — The County of Kauai has agreed to pay $1 million to resolve a civil lawsuit filed by the family of a 19-year-old Hanapepe man killed by a speeding police cruiser, according to a prosecuting attorney on the case.

The family of Michael Kocher Jr. reached a settlement with the county last month in Kauai’s Fifth Circuit Court, but conditions of the agreement were not previously made public, as documents are still being finalized.

Aaron Creps, a Honolulu attorney who represented the Kocher family in its case against the county, the Kauai Police Department and officer Irvin Magayanes, said Friday the settlement also includes a stipulation that the KPD make some changes to its training curriculum, requiring new recruits to watch a video about the consequences of reckless driving and participate in a discussion about events that led to Kocher’s death.

“Part of Michael’s legacy is that every new recruit will hear his story,” said Creps, who has worked closely with the Kocher family since taking on the case in 2016. Kocher’s parents declined to comment until the settlement is official.

On the night of his death in January 2015, Kocher had been struck by another vehicle and was lying in the road, suffering from non-life threatening injuries. Magayanes was the first officer to respond. According to a GPS device in the car, Magayanes was driving about 75 mph when he arrived on the scene, managing to slow to 70 mph by the time his bumper made contact with Kocher’s head.

Magayanes was acquitted of criminal charges last year when a jury found him not guilty of negligent manslaughter and has since returned to his position with the department. He could not be reached for comment.

Creps reviewed GPS data tracking Magayanes’ route to the scene and said the officer at one point drove in excess of 100 mph, even speeding through residential areas. “He ripped through Kaumakani at 80,” Creps said.

When asked whether he believed Magayanes’ driving contributed to his inability to avoid hitting Kocher, Creps said, “speed was definitely a factor.”

At a deposition during the civil proceedings, Creps said he asked Magayanes why he was driving so fast, to which the officer replied that he wanted to respond to the scene quickly. Creps asked why he wanted to get there quickly, and then answered the question himself — “He wanted to get there fast so nobody else would hit Michael.”

Magayanes’ partner and
supervisor both testified that the outcome would have been the same if they had been driving the car instead of Magayanes, but Creps remains dubious. “There were small things he could have done to avoid it,” he said.

According to Creps, Magayanes did not turn on his high beams as he approached the scene, where he knew he would find an injured pedestrian. Creps said his law firm consulted experts who determined that turning on the car’s high beams would have effectively doubled the length Magayanes was able to see, allowing him to make adjustments and avoid hitting Kocher.

It has been almost three years since Kocher’s death, and his parents have not received any compensation, financial or otherwise, for the death of their son. And the man they feel is responsible has not faced legal or administrative consequences.

Creps said criminal charges related to Kocher’s death were filed based on the findings of an internal police investigation, which concluded that Magayanes had violated police procedure. But the investigator’s opinion was later overturned by then-Police Chief Darryl Perry at the recommendation of an administrative review board, according to Creps, who said that, as far as he can tell, Magayanes has not been penalized by the department in any way.

“It was a horrible, horrible event, and the Kochers will never be the same,” Creps said, adding that although money cannot serve as consolation for the death of a child, “at least the settlement was a significant amount, and it reflects that this should not have happened.”

The county also agreed to erect a plaque in honor of Kocher at a community park near his family’s home in Eleele, as a condition of the settlement, according to Creps.

County officials declined to comment on the matter and would not confirm the reported conditions of the settlement. As for legal fees, officials could not say how much has been spent defending Magayanes and the county over the past three years, but said those numbers will be available next week.

Since 2016, the council has approved at least five requests — totaling $600,000 — for funding associated with litigation and mediation in the Kocher family’s civil suit.

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Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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