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Driver gets probation for negligent homicide, high-speed chase

A 24-year-old Keaau man was sentenced Thursday to four years probation and 30 days in jail for a 2016 traffic collision that killed an 18-year-old Keaau man and a police pursuit that started with a speeding report on Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto handed down the sentence to Eric-John Semana. In a deal with prosecutors, Semana pleaded no contest to second-degree negligent homicide, reckless driving and first-degree resisting an order to stop.

The negligent homicide and resisting an order to stop charges are Class C felonies punishable by up to five years imprisonment. Reckless driving is a petty misdemeanor punishable by up 30 days in jail.

Semana served approximately 10 months in jail as a pretrial detainee and was given credit for time served, so he will not face additional jail time. He’s also not allowed to take intoxicants during his probation.

“I’m very sorry. I feel very very bad for what happened,” Semana told the judge. “I’ve come a long way since then and I’m starting to become a better person.”

Deputy Public Defender Patrick Munoz said Semana deserves probation, as “prison would only result in even more damage.” He said Semana has been working very hard to change himself since the crash and has become dedicated to sobriety and making amends.

While passing sentence, Nakamoto said he’s impressed by Semana’s resolve and pleased with his progress.

Semana was originally charged with first-degree negligent homicide — a Class B felony carrying a potential 10-year prison sentence — for a one-car crash Feb. 8, 2016, near Hilo Korean Christian Church in Keaau that killed Albert Gonsalves.

Police said Semana, then 18, was driving a 2011 Toyota four-door sedan north on Volcano Highway (Highway 11) when he crossed the centerline, ran off the road and hit a utility pole and fence near the highway’s 9-mile marker. The collision, which occurred shortly before 4 a.m. on a Saturday, also hospitalized two other passengers, both 18. One was flown to The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu; the other went into surgery at Hilo Medical Center.

Semana was admitted to Hilo Medical Center with internal injuries.

Deputy Prosecutor Jefferson Malate told the Tribune-Herald in December 2017, when Semana was indicted on the negligent homicide charge, that drug tests found MDMA, commonly known as “ecstasy,” and THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in Semana’s system.

Police also think speed was a factor in the crash.

Semana was also arrested June 25, 2020, following a high-speed police chase.

According to court documents filed by police, a Hilo-bound motorist called police after he was passed near the 34-mile marker of Daniel K. Inouye Highway near the Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area by a dark-gray BMW four-door sedan. The caller told police the driver, who was the lone occupant of the car, passed him in a no-passing zone at a speed estimated at more than 100 mph, documents state.

Officer Jared Cabatu wrote he spotted the BMW at about the 11-mile marker and clocked it at 96 mph in a 55 mph zone. According to Cabatu, he pursued the sedan, which increased its speed to 120 mph, but lost sight of the 2011 BMW — which is registered to Semana — on Kaumana Drive in the Country Club subdivision area.

Documents state the BMW ran a red light at the corner of Kaumana Drive and Ainako Avenue, almost striking the vehicle of Officer Joshua Baumgarner, who identified Semana as the driver — as did two other officers.

Semana was again spotted by officers about 45 minutes later on Kamehameha Avenue, and again attempted to evade them. He then stopped the car on the Suisan bridge, leaped from the bridge to a parking lot about 10 feet below and ran behind the Hilo Iron Works building, through the warehouse area, and scaled an eight-foot-high chain link fence.

Officer Duane Rapoza ran Semana down and arrested him, documents state.

According to court records, Semana has a history of traffic infractions.

He was ticketed on Jan. 10, 2016, for going 68 mph in a 45 mph zone and paid a $182 ticket.

Twelve days later, he was clocked driving 60 mph in a 45 mph zone. He paid $142 for that citation.

On Dec. 9, 2016, Semana was cited for not wearing a seat belt and paid a $44 ticket.

And on Sept. 28, 2017, he was ticketed for running a stop sign, and paid a $97 fine.

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Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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