Jury hands down verdict in negligent homicide case

LIHUE — A Kauai Police Department officer will return to his patrol duties after he was found not guilty Thursday of causing the death of a pedestrian who died after being hit by his car in 2015.

After an eight-day trial and about four hours of jury deliberation, the case against Irvin Magayanes, who was charged with one count of negligent homicide in the second degree in connection to the death of Michael Kocher Jr., was closed in his favor.

The charge carries a lesser included misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide.

Magayanes was found not guilty of both charges.

“We’re obviously very pleased. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we believed in this case,” said Daniel Hempey, one of Magayanes’ defense attorneys.

The verdict was handed down Thursday in front of Judge Randal Valenciano.

“Although the verdict is certainly disappointing, that is how our jury trial system works and we do thank the jurors for their service, their time and their attentiveness,” said Justin Kollar, prosecuting attorney. “Our thoughts remain with the friends and family of Michael S. Kocher, Jr.”

On Jan. 3, 2015, dispatch received a call about a man, later identified as Kocher, who was hit by another driver while he was in Kaumalii Highway in Kaumakani.

Magayanes, who was the first officer to respond to the scene, was accused of hitting the 19-year-old with his car while responding to the scene.

According to the reports, Kocher, of Hanapepe, survived the first hit and received non life threatening injuries. His cause of death is believed to be due to the second vehicle strike.

The GPS clocked Magayanes driving at about 75 mph in a 50 mph zone when he is said to have hit and killed Kocher, according to reports.

GPS data recovered from the car showed that at one point earlier on that date he was traveling as fast as 109 mph, said Justin Kollar, prosecuting attorney.

During Magayanes’ trial, testimony revealed that there was confusion about where the incident occurred, and Kocher’s body was almost a mile closer than they expected.

“It’s such a tragedy all around,” Hempey said.

The jury also heard from over a dozen witnesses including bystanders, police officers and experts in traffic reconstruction and human factors, according to a release from De Costa, Hempey Meyers, LLC.,the law firm representing Magayanes.

In his closing arguments, Hempey emphasized that Kocher’s death was an accident, and likened it to an imperfect storm where Kocher was lying in the street in the dark and Mr. Magayanes as well as all other police and firefighters believed that they were dispatched to a location 3⁄4 of a mile east, the press release said.

During the trial, Magayanes’ other attorney, Craig De Costa, called on the testimony of two doctors — Rajeev Kelkar and Tate Kubose — from Inscitech, Inc., an engineering consulting firm that specializes in wreck reconstruction, biomechanics, electrical engineering, human factors and medical science.

In his testimony, Kelkar said the speed at which Magayanes was traveling at the time of impact was not a significant factor in the accident and opined that the accident would have occurred even if Mr. Magayanes was responding to the emergency under the speed limit, according to the release.

Kubose testified that lighting on Kaumualii Highway on the Kaumakani stretch was so bad that evening that Magayanes simply did not have time to react once he finally saw the body lying in the roadway.

Magayanes, who joined KPD in 2013, was assigned to administrative duties after the wreck.

“A very thorough and comprehensive investigation was conducted regarding this tragic collision, which concluded that it was in truth an accident and that Officer Magayanes did not operate his vehicle in negligent manner, said Darryl Perry, KPD chief. “After a lengthy trial, the jury correctly and rightfully agreed with the facts of the investigation, and returned a verdict of not guilty.”

Perry also acknowledged the Kocher family.

“The untimely death of Michael Kocher, Jr., continues to rest heavily on our hearts, and we acknowledge the deep sense of loss by the Kocher ohana,” he said. “No words regarding this tragic event can ever take away their grief.”

A civil case against the County of Kauai is pending.

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