State of Hawaii v. Reservist USAF SSgt
Charges: Felony Manslaughter of Police Officer
A police officer died in a fiery crash, the state wanted someone to pay. This case took 4 years to get to court, and one month to try in front of a jury. It showcased the outstanding advocacy attorney Noel Tipon and the entire B&T trial team, including our investigators, our trial consultants, expert witnesses, paralegals, UH law clerks and secretarial staff. They pulled together as a team and did an extraordinary job.
In January 2012, an Air Force Reservist was driving to the airport on his way to reserve training at Lackland AFB, TX. Unbeknownst to him a motorist with a flat tire came to a complete stop in the fast lane of the freeway that had no shoulder so he was sitting in the flow of traffic. A Honolulu Police Department officer stopped his squad car behind the truck with a flat tire.
Moments later the defendant crashed into the back of the police officer’s vehicle with the police officer in it causing the truck to flip over and spin the squad car around. The initial impact killed the police officer. The car then burst into flames and the squad car was quickly engulfed in flames.
Two days later he contacted Attorney Noel Tipon and retained the firm to represent him. Mr. Tipon assisted the defendant through the initial arrest and bail process. The police investigation took over a year and a half to complete. The defendant was indicted for Manslaughter where he faced a maximum jail sentence of 20 years in State prison. The Prosecutor’s office put three different prosecutors on the case prior to trial before settling on one of the most experienced prosecutors from the Felony Trials Division.
The prosecutor pulled all the stops to stack the deck against the defendant to ensure a conviction. HPD pulled the airbag control module (sometimes referred to as the black box) from the defendant’s truck and downloaded the data. The data pulled was examined by experts in the HPD. The data indicated that the defendant was traveling at 83 mph at the time of the accident and that no brakes were applied prior to the crash. The prosecutors hired two different experts. One conducted an examination of the data pulled from the black box.
In an example of the prosecutors stacking the deck, they had the expert testify about a calculation the government expert did that put the defendant’s speed at 92 mph despite the data pulled from the black box. The other prosecution expert testified that the defendant’s truck was in perfect working condition and that there was no mechanical defect that could have caused the accident. The prosecutors called seven eyewitnesses, including the resident of a nearby apartment building who testified that he witnessed the crash from his 10th floor apartment.
The prosecutor’s case comprised of over 40 listed witnesses and took two weeks to complete. The trial took over a month to complete. Mr. Tipon cross examined all of the witnesses and exposed the holes in the state’s case proving that the defendant was not acting recklessly while driving.
The defense called an accident reconstruction expert who further scrutinized the police investigation. He testified that the same exact accident could have occurred had the defendant been driving 60 mph. Mr. Tipon, through the use of the expert, demonstrated that the fire that started after the crash was actually the result of a faulty design in the vehicle manufacturing. After a week of jury deliberations, the defendant was NOT GUILTY of Manslaughter of manslaughter and instead only found guilty of misdemeanor negligent homicide where the maximum penalty is one year in jail.
Result: Not Guilty of Felony Manslaughter, guilty of misdemeanor homicide in the 3rd degree (lowest lesser included offense).