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Plea deal may be near for fatal crash suspect

A tentative plea deal is in the works for a Mountain View man accused of running over and killing an elderly bicyclist with a pickup truck late last year.

Michael Green, the Honolulu attorney representing Siaiku Lucky Aholelei, told Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura on Tuesday he made a plea offer to prosecutors and he believed that an agreement would be reached in the near future. Aholelei, who has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and first-degree negligent homicide for the Sept. 27 crash that killed 66-year-old Cenon Visaya of Keaau, had been scheduled to start trial on Tuesday. The trial was expected to be postponed as Nakamura’s court is in jury selection for the trial of Keaka Martin, accused of two counts of attempted first-degree murder for the non-fatal shooting of two police officers on Jan. 2, 2013, in Hilo. Opening arguments are expected next week.

“I know you’re busy, and I have trials. Perhaps at the end of your trial, we can meet with you … to help us resolve the case,” Green told the judge, who scheduled further proceedings for 8:30 a.m. on April 21.

Both Green and Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Hashizaki confirmed afterward that negotiations are ongoing.

“The case clearly is a negligent homicide. Factually, it is,” Green said. “I think we (defense and prosecutors) disagree as to whether he was racing. I think he just lost control of his vehicle going too fast, and some poor man loses his life. You know, it’s not where someone really intends to hurt anybody. The conduct is such that it leads to that.

“We’re trying to work out something because, obviously, there has to be some sort of punishment. And I think the degree of punishment is what were discussing. The government is here to protect the people and I have an obligation to make sure I give my client my undivided loyalty. So we’re trying to work it out, and I think with the judge’s help, we’ll be able to.”

Hashizaki said the sides are close to reaching a settlement in this case on a first-degree negligent homicide plea, but noted that any deal is still tentative.

“A trial is obviously never a guarantee,” he said, adding that the settlement offer “on its face appears reasonable.”

“Obviously, we’re not there yet. I still want to check with the victim’s family and the police and get their feelings on this settlement offer,” he said.

An eyewitness to the crash, Nerissa De Lima, testified in a preliminary hearing on Oct. 1 that the 27-year-old Aholelei appeared to be “playing tag” with the driver of another truck. She said the apparent game started at the corner of Kanoelehua Avenue and Makaala Street in Hilo and continued on Volcano Highway (Highway 11) until the fatal crash occurred near the entrance of Kamehameha Schools-Hawaii campus in Keaau. She and another witness, Charlene Milazzo, said they saw Aholelei apparently lose control of the vehicle. They said the truck crossed the median, went airborne and crossed Hilo-bound traffic lanes before slamming into Visaya, who died at the scene.

De Lima said the other truck’s driver, a woman, “proceeded to go on her merry way” toward Mountain View.

Visaya’s family endured two traffic fatalities in a little more than a year. Visaya’s wife, 61-year-old Josefina Visaya, was one of two women killed on Sept. 10, 2012, along with 54-year-old Patrocinia Cadang of Keaau, when the van they were riding in was sideswiped and knocked down a 15-foot embankment by a pickup truck attempting to pass them on Mamalahoa Highway (Highway 19) near Kalopa. That crash also injured the other six people in the van, three of them critically.

The driver of the pickup truck in the Kalopa crash, Alfred Berdon III, was arrested on suspicion of two counts of negligent homicide, four counts of negligent injury, DUI and driving with a suspended license and without insurance. He was later released pending investigation and, to date, has not been charged.

Manslaughter carries a possible 20-year prison term upon conviction, while a negligent homicide conviction could result in a 10-year prison term.

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