Practice Areas

Fatal crash suit settlement ok'd

January 6, 2004

By Rod Ohira, ADVERTISER STAFF WRITER

HPD agrees to help officers who drink

The Honolulu Police Department has agreed to work with the police union to identify and help officers with alcohol or drug problems as part of a settlement with the family of Dana Ambrose, who was killed in a drunken-driving traffic accident involving an off-duty Honolulu police officer three years ago.

The family will get no financial compensation in the settlement with the city. The family sued the city in federal court, claiming HPD failed to preserve evidence and gave Officer Clyde Arakawa special treatment at the scene of the Oct. 7, 2000, collision on Pali Highway.

The suit also claimed Arakawa was allowed to continue driving his city-subsidized 1993 Ford Thunderbird despite a history of alcohol abuse.

"It's a good step and it's a fair settlement for the city and for the Ambroses," said the Ambroses' attorney, Rick Fried Jr.

"The family was never in this action for money," Fried added. "They very candidly wanted to see that his never happens to someone else because of police misconduct that was foreseeable."

The settlement, which was to be announced in a press conference this afternoon, hinged on a Jan. 2 letter to Ambrose's parents from Honolulu police Chief Lee Donohue that addresses five areas of concern by the family.

In his letter, Donohue admitted no wrongdoing by the Honolulu Police Department but agreed to five areas of change, said attorney Rick Fried Jr., who represents Rod and Susan Ambrose of California, Dana's parents.

One of the changes will involve HPD administration working with the State of Hawai`i Organization of Police Officers, the union representing its officers, in identifying and helping officers with alcohol or drug problems.

Arakawa was convicted of manslaughter in February 2002 and is serving a 20-year sentence at the Halawa Correctional Facility.

Prosecutors said Arakawa was off duty and legally drunk while driving his vehicle when he ran a red light on Pali Highway and broadsided Dana Ambrose's 2000 Honda Civic.

Ambrose's family argued that HPD was aware of Arakawa's history of alcohol abuse.

According to the trial testimony, Arakawa drank steadily for about seven hours prior to the collision with Ambrose. Ambrose's parents have already reached a settlement with the two Ala Moana bars where Arakawa drank prior to the incident.

Arakawa had planned to retire at the time of the crash and later left the department.

The family still has a lawsuit pending against Arakawa before Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna.