Surprising decision last week from 2nd Circuit Court Judge Joseph Cardoza on an old lawsuit against the State of Hawaii. Back in 2005, a Nissan Sentra driven by Denise Callo, 34, of Pukalani plunged off an old overlook on the Pali. The impact killed Callo and James Makekau, 16, also of Pukalani, but somehow didn’t kill Tiffany Romena, 16, and her three-month-old daughter. Anyway, Callo’s parents filed suit against the state a few months later, saying the overlook was dangerous and the state never should have allowed people to drive onto it.
On Apr. 18, Cardoza agreed with the plaintiffs. And not just technically, either: the state is “solely and wholly” liable for the deaths, he wrote in a 200-page ruling, according to this Apr. 20 Maui News story.
As expected, the state Attorney General’s office, which fought the suit, disagreed. “The official police investigation concluded that the driver was almost three times over the blood alcohol legal limit, had been smoking marijuana with the passengers, and actually drove off the cliff,” AG spokesman Joshua Wisch told the News.
But probably what’s most surprising about all this is that I find myself in complete agreement with the AG’s office. The traffic fatalities were tragedies, and motor vehicles should not be on that overlook, but Callo was beyond intoxicated at the time of the accident. What’s more, I wrote that opinion at the time Callo’s family filed suit against the state in this Coconut Wireless column, dated June 16, 2005:
Callo’s parents say everything would have been cool had there been a barrier along the edge of the old road segment. I completely agree, though to be fair everything also might have been cool had Callo not been legally drunk and stoned on grass when she tried to make that turn.
There’s no decision yet on whether the state of Hawaii will appeal Cardoza’s ruling, which reportedly awarded nearly $2 million in damages to Makekau’s mother, another $1.1 million to Callo’s mother and $250,000 to Romena.
Photo: Forest & Kim Starr/Wikimedia Commons