Man facing negligent homicide sentence charged in police chase

  • ERIC-JOHN SEMANA

A 23-year-old Keaau man who’s due to be sentenced today for a car crash that killed a passenger was arrested Thursday in Hilo on numerous traffic-related offenses after allegedly leading police on a high-speed chase on Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

Eric-John Semana is charged with resisting arrest and three counts each of reckless driving, excessive speeding and resisting an order to stop.

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He made his initial appearance on the new charges Friday in Hilo District Court. Judge Kanani Laubach denied a defense request to grant court-supervised release without cash bail, which was objected to by the prosecution.

Laubach set bail at $28,010, and ordered him to return for a preliminary hearing at 2 p.m. today.

Semana, who is also charged with failure to maintain bail or bond, is in custody at Hawaii Community Correctional Center. Bail on that charge is $50,000.

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, according to documents. He then reportedly 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.

In addition, Semana is scheduled to be sentenced at 8 a.m. today in a separate case before Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto.

In a deal with prosecutors, Semana pleaded no contest on Feb. 25 to second-degree negligent homicide for a one-car crash Feb. 8, 2016, that killed 18-year-old passenger Albert Gonsalves of Keaau. Semana, who was originally charged with first-degree negligent homicide — a Class B felony with a potential 10-year prison term — faces a possible five-year prison sentence for the Class C felony charge he pleaded to.

According to police, Semana 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, just north of the Hilo Korean Christian Church in Keaau.

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, who also was 18 at the time, suffered “non-incapacitating” injuries, according to a police log. Police said he was admitted to Hilo Medical Center with internal injuries.

None of the car’s four occupants was wearing seat belts.

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.

According to dourt 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.

On Jan. 22, 2016, 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.

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

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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