‘I want you to be forgiven’

LIHUE — The father of a Kilauea man killed in a car wreck told the driver held responsible that he forgave him.

“I know Sam would have forgiven you if was here,” said Keith Mitzel. “I know you’re hurting, but I can promise you God loves you and has a better plan for your life. He will forgive you, and I want you to be forgiven.”

On March 4, 2014, about 7:30 p.m., Keith Mitzel and his son, Sam, were struck by a Ford pickup truck on Kuhio Highway, just north of Wailapa Road.

The driver, James Monroe, Jr., of Kilauea, crossed the center line and sideswiped a southbound Jeep SUV before crashing head-on into a Dodge SUV, driven by Sam Mitzel. The collision forced the Dodge to overturn, according to police reports.

Sam Mitzel, 29, died at the scene.

On Thursday, Monroe appeared before Chief Judge Randal Valenciano to be sentenced on charges including manslaughter and negligent homicide in the first degree.

After hearing testimony from Mitzel’s parents, Valenciano sentenced Monroe to 10 years in prison.

On the night of the wreck, Monroe, 53, had a blood alcohol content of .324, which is three times the legal limit, said Justin Kollar, prosecuting attorney.

“To get to that blood alcohol content, and still be functional, you have to be a seasoned drinker,” he said. “This was (an) enormously drunk man, driving an enormous vehicle.”

Monroe was arrested March 5 and charged with negligent injury and negligent homicide.

He was later indicted on nine counts, including manslaughter, negligent homicide in the first degree, assault in the second degree, negligent injury in the first degree, two counts of assault in the third degree, reckless driving, inattention to driving and operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant.

Monroe pleaded no contest to those charges on May 11.

Mitzel was a photographer, and was excited to take pictures for his sister’s wedding, his mother, Stacy Barnes, told the court Thursday.

“He took a son, father and husband that night, and Sam never got a chance to say goodbye,” she said. “My granddaughter will never know her father; he will just be pictures and stories to her. … There’s an emptiness in my heart that will never go away.”

Keith Mitzel, who was critically injured in the wreck, said he was knocked out and when he regained consciousness. He was hanging from his seat belt.

“I couldn’t hear my son. I tried reaching for him, but I couldn’t find him,” he said.

Keith Mitzel suffered from 10 broken ribs, a lacerated spleen and was bleeding internally. He was taken to Wilcox hospital and was then flown to Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu.

“Miraculously, I made it, and I’m grateful. But my son is gone, and I wish I could take his place,” he said.

The driver of the Jeep SUV, Cathy Farley and her passenger, were also injured, according to reports.

During the proceedings, Monroe’s attorney, Michael Soong, told Valenciano that his client understands the pain Mitzel’s family is going through.

“Mr. Monroe acknowledges the pain he caused. He knows there is nothing he can say or do to ease the pain,” he said.

Monroe, whose daughter died as a result of injuries sustained from a car wreck in 2010, said he feels horrible for the pain he caused the Mitzel family.

“In fact, I hate myself right now,” he said. “I wish I could change everything, but I can’t. All I can say is that my prayers are with them, and I’m sorry.”

Kollar said he is pleased Valenciano handed down the 10-year prison sentence.

“When this defendant got drunk and got behind the wheel his truck became a lethal weapon that created tremendous suffering for an amazing ohana,” he said. “Our thoughts are with the friends and family of Sam Mitzel.”

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