Police use stealth tactic to target aggressive drivers
By LILA FUJIMOTO, Staff Writer

KIHEI – As a white Subaru station wagon darts in and out of traffic, speeding and passing other cars on Piilani Highway, a black Mustang is on its trail.

Behind the wheel of the Mustang is police officer Lawrence Kauha’aha’a, who’s wearing shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt under a police vest.

Looking more like he’s going to the beach than hunting for aggressive drivers, he barely draws glances from other motorists as the Mustang blends into the weekday afternoon traffic.

Kauha’aha’a keeps the Subaru in sight while, from the front passenger seat of the Mustang, Lt. Arthur “Reuben” Dadez – in uniform – trains a radar gun on the car they’re tracking.

When Dadez clocks the Subaru going 74 mph after zooming past a posted 25-mph construction zone near Kilohana Drive, Kauha’aha’a makes a call to other officers, who move in for an arrest.

“This is aggressive driving plus speeding,” Dadez said.

Using three vehicles, including the rented Mustang and an unmarked police van, seven police officers carried out the special operation last week to target aggressive driving on Maui roads. In the July 19 effort, two drivers were arrested, both on Piilani Highway.

The unmarked civilian vehicle makes a difference and Kauha’aha’a said the enforcement team could use any of a number of vehicles that don’t look like a police patrol car.

“When people see the traffic cars, they slow down,” Kauha’aha’a said. “Now you don’t know who’s following you. Every car you pass could potentially be the police.”

Kauha’aha’a, who works as a visitor-oriented policing officer in Lahaina, planned the operation several weeks ago as police noticed an increase in aggressive driving that also sparked community concern.

Police traffic officers are investigating speeding and reckless driving in some recent traffic deaths, including one on June 3 that killed 8-year-old Will Smith of San Antonio.

The boy was a passenger in a Maalaea-bound car driven by his mother on Honoapiilani Highway near Ukumehame Wayside Park. The car was struck by a Lahaina-bound Mazda sedan that had veered off the highway onto the mauka dirt shoulder before returning to the roadway and crossing into oncoming traffic, police said.

While the operation was under way July 19, Kauha’aha’a received a telephone call from Smith’s mother, Susan Moulton, who applauded the enforcement effort.

The officer helped make arrangements for a memorial service for the boy held earlier this month in Kaanapali. Moulton has said she hopes that her son’s death helps focus attention on the need to deter speeding and aggressive driving.

“She’s hoping that her son didn’t die in vain,” Kauha’aha’a said.

Along with Kauha’aha’a and Dadez, the enforcement effort included Kihei visitor-oriented policing officer Alan Brown, Sgt. Ricky Uedoi and officer Tim Hodgens of the Lahaina Specialized Unit, and Lahaina school resource officers Brandon Koyama and Scott Perry.

The officers started the day in West Maui, finding most drivers traveling at the 45- to 55-mph speed limits along Honoapiilani Highway.

“We were going 40 and pulling away from people,” Kauha’aha’a said.

Traffic officers had completed a three-day crackdown on speeding and aggressive driving the day before and he said many drivers seemed to have gotten the message to slow down.

That appeared to be mostly true on Piilani Highway as well.

But about 1:40 p.m., Kauha’aha’a noticed the Wailea-bound Subaru gaining on him as he drove at the 40-mph speed limit near Ohukai Road.

The Subaru passed Kauha’aha’a to pull up behind, then speed by other cars.

After whizzing through the 25-mph construction zone at Kilohana Drive, the Subaru passed 30- and 40-mph speed limit signs, turning onto Wailea Ike Drive and racing downhill, cutting from the right into the left lane in front of a large truck.

When Brown activated the flashing blue lights and siren of the police van, the Subaru driver briefly pulled across an entrance to the Shops At Wailea, blocking a car trying to leave, before driving further along Wailea Alanui Drive and stopping in the parking lot of a nearby hotel.

The driver said she was going to work, denying she had been speeding and cutting off other cars as the officers observed, Kauha’aha’a said.

She was charged with excessive speeding.

Under a law that took effect this year, the charge can be brought against drivers who are clocked traveling more than 80 mph or going 30 mph over the speed limit. Those convicted of the petty misdemeanor crime face potential jail time, higher fines and license suspensions.

As Hodgens and Perry transported the woman to the Kihei Police Station, the other officers were on the road, following the traffic on Piilani, Mokulele and Kuihelani highways.

Back on Piilani Highway shortly after 3 p.m., Kauha’aha’a began following a Wailea-bound black pickup truck whose driver appeared to be drinking from a bottle.

The truck tires screeched as it accelerated from a stoplight at Lipoa Street, with the driver gunning the engine.

From his vehicle, Kauha’aha’a sees the driver taking off his shirt, then begin passing other vehicles on the right, then the left lane, then the right, shifting from lane to lane while overtaking other vehicles.

When he’s stopped near Kilohana Drive, the truck driver said he was heading home after work, Kauha’aha’a said. He has a bottle of liquor in a paper bag. The man was charged with reckless driving and having an open alcohol container in a vehicle.

Drivers observed committing multiple traffic violations, such as following too closely and changing lanes without signaling, would face stiffer penalties under an aggressive driving law recommended by a state aggressive driving task force, said Capt. Charles Hirata, commander of the Lahaina Patrol District.

The enforcement effort with an unmarked vehicle was a test for a program that police plan to continue.

“We’re going to do it whenever we see a need for it,” Hirata said. “It can be very handy.”

Lila Fujimoto can be reached at