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Police, Prosecutor Clarify Release of Suspect in Fatal Crash

November 11, 2019, 4:31 PM HST
* Updated November 11, 4:47 PM
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Engine and debris on Queen Kaahumanu Highway following a head-on collision on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2019, that left one woman dead and three children injured. PC: Lt. Edwin Buyten

A 25 year-old male from Kamuela operating a Jeep Renegade SUV crossed the center line and collided head-on with a 2015 Honda Pilot SUV on Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway Sunday afternoon, killing the driver — 35-year-old Cassandra Lynn Ellis — and injuring three juvenile, female passengers riding in the Honda.

The force of the collision was so great, an engine block ejected from one of the vehicles.

Hawai‘i Police Department officials arrested the 25-year-old male for negligent homicide, operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant, reckless driving and three counts of negligent injury.

Police then sent out a statement saying they believe both speed and drugs were factors in the crash. Despite that, the yet unnamed driver of the Jeep was released from custody less than 24 hours later.

For those shaking their heads at the decision to release the suspect, Hawai‘i County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth and HPD Assistant Police Chief Robert Wagner explained why it happened.

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“We could not charge suspect,” Wagner explained. “We conferred with the Prosecutor’s Office and they declined to charge. They want the police to do more work on the case first — such as mechanical inspections on both vehicles, medical records for all injured, accident reconstruction, potential other witnesses and more than a few other things.”

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“We cannot charge these cases without consent from the Prosecutor’s Office because it involves felony offenses,” he continued.

A suspect in a crime can only legally be held for 48 hours before charges must be filed. Just because the Prosecutor’s Office hasn’t filed charges, that doesn’t mean they won’t be filed in the future.

But as Roth explained, it makes more sense to conduct a thorough investigation and deal with the suspect down the line, as prosecutors must bring a case to trial within 180 days of levying charges, unless the defense team requests a continuation. Rushing through the steps can cause courtroom complications if and when a case ever goes to trial.

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The process of taking blood to test for drugs, for instance, may require several weeks to more than a month before results are returned.

If the continuing investigation turns up cause to charge the 25-year-old driver of the Jeep, Roth said charges will likely come through a grand jury indictment and not directly from his office. This method, he said, is common for cases of negligent homicide.

“Unless you’re able to get a lot of information (right away), they don’t usually get charged. They go through a grand jury indictment,” Roth said. “It generally happens because we have to know what the correct charge is to charge this person with. It makes a difference if there’s drugs in the system or alcohol in the system. We just don’t get the results back quick enough.”

As of Monday afternoon, the name of the suspect in the collision had not been released.

Police ask that anyone who may have witnessed the collision to contact Officer Kelsey Kobayashi at 808-326-4646 ext. 229 or 808-339-5651. Tipsters who prefer to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at 808-961-8300.

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