LIHUE — After a Koloa man made a split-second decision, a series of events left a 56-year-old Kekaha man dead.
The man who made that decision, 36-year-old Joseph Michael Frye, was sentenced Wednesday by Fifth Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe to six years and 30 days behind bars for a 2014 car crash that killed Jonathan Renti Cruz.
“I have to speak of my brother now in the past tense because of your very, very bad choice, Mr. Frye,” said Renti Cruz’s youngest sister. “It took him away from us forever … They say time heals; for me the pain is greater now because the shock is done. Now I have to live each day knowing he is not here.”
Frye was indicted in 2015 for manslaughter, second-degree negligent homicide, reckless endangering and reckless driving.
On Dec. 6, 2014, Frye was heading east on Kaumualii Highway in a Ford F150. According to his attorney Nelson Goo, he was behind a woman who was driving 43 miles per hour. When she brake checked him, he swerved to the shoulder to try and avoid a collision, where numerous cars were behind him, Goo told the court.
In a split-second, Frye made the decision to speed up and get back into the lane of traffic driving at 63 miles per hour, Goo said.
He lost control, crossed the centerline and hit Renti Cruz’s vehicle, according to reports. Renti Cruz had to be extricated from his vehicle and was taken to Wilcox Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to reports.
Frye said he was trying to avoid the accident that day.
“I didn’t want to do anything drastic,” Frye said. “I was honestly trying to avoid an accident in my mind. It’s my understanding that Mr. Renti Cruz was a good man. If I had known that someone’s life was in jeopardy, I would have drove off a cliff than risk people’s life. I don’t even ask for forgiveness from the family. I just ask that the family celebrate his life. That’s my burden to carry. Be strong in your faith. I ask that you not walk away from this with any hate.”
On April 18, Frye pleaded no contest to three of four counts on the 2015 indictment. Manslaughter, which is a class A felony, was dismissed by the state. Second-degree negligent homicide is a class C felony and punishable by five years in prison and $10,000.
Goo praised the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney for dismissing the manslaughter charge as it “saved us all time, effort and taxpayer’s money.” He said his client was not getting a free pass.
Frye had 12 license suspensions in Texas, according to information provided to the court by the probation office.
His attorney called it a “bureaucratic bookkeeping method” that would suspend his client’s license every time he forgot to pay.
But Frye also has 13 failure-to-complete a driver safety course, according to his driving record. He could not explain them to the court.
With the previous speeding convictions, Watanabe said she was not inclined to believe his version of events.
“It defies common sense that you pulled over to the side of the road to avoid an accident and then you pulled back,” she said. “I just don’t buy it.”
Frye was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of more than $6,000 to the victim’s family and more than $4,000 to the county for the cost to extradite him back to Kauai from Texas.
Frye, who has no prior criminal record, has already served one year and 3 months.