Man gets six months, probation for fatal crash

LIHUE — An Anahola man will serve six months in prison with felony probation for a 2011 car crash that killed his mother and injured two others in a second vehicle.

Joshua Kaleo Fernandez, 25, apologized to everyone hurt in the crash — to the victims in his vehicle and to the passengers in the other cars. He asked forgiveness from his family for the death of his mother, Laurey Fernandez.

“Not a day goes by when I don’t think back to what happened three years ago today,” Fernandez said in court Wednesday. “I lost the most important person in my life.”

Fernandez was driving a 1999 Ford Explorer on Oct. 1, 2011, when he crossed the center line of Kuhio Highway near Wailua Golf Course about 2:45 p.m. The truck broadsided a vehicle before colliding with a pickup, resulting in his mother’s death. Jefferson and Iris Venzon, two passengers in a second vehicle, were severely injured.

Judge Kathleen Watanabe said this was among the most difficult sentencings during her nine years on the bench.

She said the defendant’s actions led to the death of his mother and that this would stay with him as a life sentence. 

Watanabe sentenced Fernandez to six months jail, with a five-year probation for first-degree negligent homicide, first-degree negligent injury, and one-year probation for second-degree negligent injury. His driver’s license was also revoked for three years. 

County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Melinda Mendes asked the court for a 10-year prison term. She said it was admirable that the defendant had taken steps to turn his life around but that it should not outweigh the severity of the offense.

The state paroling authority would have the benefit of considering that information in deciding whether to grant Fernandez an early release, she said.

Fernandez has a juvenile record and 14 adult convictions since 2009, including theft, resisting arrest and driving without a license, according to Mendes. She reminded the court that Fernandez tested positive for the presence of morphine, oxycodone, methamphetamine and amphetamine in his blood following the accident.

Fernandez is currently in 5th Circuit Drug Court for a theft conviction that occurred after the fatal accident, but before the 2013 indictment for the 2011 crash.

Court-appointed defense attorney Mark Zenger said the state court does have discretion in this sentencing. He said if there ever was a case that deserved the latitude discretion of probation, it was this one. 

Fernandez tested positive for drugs in his system but had not been high since the night before, Zenger said. It was a drug lifestyle that contributed to the crash and not a level of intoxication, he added.

Fernandez was driving a borrowed vehicle that pulled hard to the right, he added. He was fighting the steering wheel when the truck veered into the other lane.

Watanabe said the court would not “take the easy way out” and just pass the tough decisions to the parole board. The state took two years to file charges and was essentially claiming that by taking responsibility, Fernandez was trying to use the system to stay out of prison, she added.

Watanabe reminded the defendant that, should he fail probation, sanctions would follow and then the possibility of revocation and a prison term.

“Don’t let your mother’s death be in vain,” Watanabe said. “If that’s what it took to get you to clean yourself up, then don’t do it for your father, or your family, you do it for your mother’s memory.”

Five people testified in support of Fernandez. Joshua’s father, Kamaka Fernandez, said his son was a good child and a good person.

“He made a big mistake that he will carry with him for the rest of his life,” he said.

Kamaka said he did not know his son when Joshua was on drugs. Since the accident, however, he has cleaned up and the two have grown closer.

Kaira Maka, a passenger with two children ages 3 and 8 in the Fernandez vehicle, said she stopped using drugs after watching what Joshua went through in recovering from the loss of his mother. She called him an inspiration.

Rafael Escalera, business administrator for the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center, said that when Fernandez came to the center he was in need of grief counseling.

“He has done his absolute best to become a man,” Escalera said. “When he came to us he was just a kid.”

Dean Josue is a friend of Fernandez who said he went through this ordeal with him and the two cleaned up together.

“It is different now,” Josue said. “Joshua is not trying to do good. He is doing good.”

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