Man charged in 2019 fatal crash changes plea to guilty

  • Nicholas Abarcar accepts a plea deal Friday in Kona Circuit Court in connection to a fatal 2019 crash that took the life of a mother of four and sent three minors to the hospital. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

A 26-year-old Waimea man accepted a deal with prosecutors Friday changing his plea to guilty on four of seven charges filed in connection with a 2019 crash that claimed the life of a mother of four and injured three girls.

Nicholas Abarcar entered the plea in front of Kona Circuit Court Judge Robert D.S. Kim, who set sentencing for May 17.

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A Kona grand jury indicted Nicholas Abarcar on Aug. 10 on charges of manslaughter, second-degree negligent homicide, two counts first-degree negligent injury, second-degree negligent injury and operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant in connection with the Nov. 10, 2019, crash.

On Friday, Abarcar pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree negligent homicide, and three counts of second degree negligent injury. The remaining charges were dropped.

Abarcar’s attorney, Jason Kwiat submitted a motion for deferred acceptance of the negligent injury guilty pleas, which if accepted means if he complies with the conditions of his sentence, he can have the conviction expunged from his criminal record. The motion does not include the negligent homicide charge which is punishable up to five years incarceration and/or a $10,000 fine.

The negligent injury charges carry up to one year in prison and/or a $2,000 fine.

The court will also order restitution at the time of sentencing.

Abarcar was operating southbound on Queen Kaahumanu Highway a black 2017 Jeep Renegade SUV when the then-25-year-old passed a vehicle within a passing zone and collided head-on with a gray 2015 Honda Pilot SUV that was headed northbound on the highway, according to police. The collision occurred at 2:10 p.m. north of the entrance to Ke Kahakai State Park in North Kona.

The Honda’s driver, 35-year-old Cassandra “Cassie” Lynn Ellis, of Kailua-Kona, was killed on impact.

Her three passengers — identified as Taylor Campogan, and Kawena Haserot, both age 15 at the time of the crash, and Trinity Campogan, then age 10 — were sent to Kona Community Hospital. Taylor Campogan and Trinity Campogan were Ellis’s daughters; Haserot and Taylor Campogan were best friends who both attended Kealakehe High School.

The four were headed to Kua Bay for the day.

Abarcar was also injured in the crash and was taken to Kona Community Hospital for treatment of undisclosed injuries, according to police. He was later arrested on suspicion of first-degree negligent homicide, DUI, reckless driving and three counts first-degree negligent injury but released pending further investigation.

Abarcar has been free on $15,000 bail.

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According to court records, Abarcar pleaded no contest to DUI, having a blood alcohol content over 0.08%, back on May 15, 2018. He had been arrested and charged with DUI and driving without a license following a traffic stop on Aug. 22, 2017.

He was found guilty and sentenced to pay $312 in fines and fees, $350 in restitution and complete driver’s education and a substance abuse rehabilitation program. His license was also revoked from Sept. 22, 2017, through Sept. 21, 2018.

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