Trial for ex-officer accused of killing cyclist finally a go

  • Jody Buddemeyer’s motion for continuance was denied Friday in Circuit Court. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KEALAKEKUA — Trial gets underway Tuesday for a former Hawaii Police Department officer charged with negligent homicide for allegedly fatally striking a bicyclist while he was on-duty in March 2015.

On Friday, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin H. Fujino denied what could have been the seventh continuation of trial in the case against Jodi Buddemeyer, which first entered the court system after a Kona grand jury handed down a three-count indictment in October 2016.

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“Looking at the history of this case, the court will deny the motion,” said Fujino after outlining the continuances granted thus far in the case.

Jury selection will get underway first thing Tuesday, followed by opening statements in the case in which prosecutors will work to prove Buddemeyer guilty of first-degree negligent homicide, tampering with physical evidence and making a false report to law enforcement in connection with the March 1, 2015, crash that killed Jeffrey Surnow, a 69-year-old visitor from Michigan.

The most recent motion for continuation was filed Sept. 21 by Buddemeyer’s attorney, Brian De Lima, who has sought six of the seven continuances in the case.

De Lima outlined his reasoning for the continuation in a motion filed Sept. 21. He also noted in court that it was the first time in his 35 years practicing law that he’s motioned to continue trial based on his personal needs and circumstances.

De Lima said he needed more time because he just completed a murder trial that began Aug. 13 and did not end until a verdict was rendered Thursday. That’s in addition to another murder trial that ran April 16 to May 29.

He also noted his home suffered damage by the “major earthquake of May 3, 2018,” which he is still addressing.

“My cesspool had a major failure and I immediately hired an engineer to design a new septic system which I need to prioritize as I have an open cesspool in my backyard, that is a hazard to our home and my neighbors. We also lost several trial days due to Hurricane Lane,” he wrote in the motion. He further noted that of the past five months, he’s been in trial for nearly three and the case has caused a backlog and stress for his office.

Because of the circumstances, De Lima’s motion states he has not had sufficient time to go into another jury trial without a break.

“Furthermore, there are other matters for which I have applied to file a declaration under seal, addressing other personal family matters which I will provide to the prosecutor but I do not believe need to be made part of the public record as the information would be considered personal private medical/information,” De Lima’s motion reads. “The thrust of which is that I need additional time to address these concerns, all of which recently arose, and if granted a continuance, I believe would be able to be resolved and I would be available for trial in January or February 2019.”

The state opposed the motion.

“The State believes that there has been sufficient time for all parties to prepare for a trial. The interests of the parties in this case, the witnesses that have been patiently waiting for closure, and the decedent’s family warrant the trial date to remain,” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kauanoe Jackson wrote in her motion opposing the continuance, which also outlined the continuances previously granted in the case.

Before making his ruling Friday, Fujino stated in court the various continuances and a delay for mental fitness examination granted by the court since Buddemeyer’s arraignment on Oct. 19, 2016, when trial was first set for Jan. 24, 2017.

According to Fujino, a motion by the state to continue trial was granted in December followed by a motion for a mental fitness examination, which suspended proceedings until Feb. 24, 2017, when Buddemeyer was deemed fit to stand trial. Trial was then set for May 30, 2017.

In April 2017, the court granted a motion by the defense to continue trial, pushing it to July 25, 2017. Another motion by the defense for continuation of trial was granted a couple weeks before the July trial and a new trial date was set for Oct. 17, 2017. In late September 2017, the court granted a third continuance sought by the defense, setting trial for Feb. 3 of this year.

Prior to that trial date, the defense was again granted a continuance of trial and Fujino set the proceeding for the end of May. Mid-May, the defense successfully motioned for a fifth continuance and trial was set for Oct. 2.

With Fujino’s denial of the defense motion, the trial will proceed as scheduled on Tuesday.

Buddemeyer pleaded not guilty to the three charges filed in connection with the crash. According to police, Buddemeyer was operating a subsidized patrol car eastbound and was on-duty when his vehicle struck and killed Surnow as he rode his bicycle eastbound up Waikoloa Road. The collision, which Buddemeyer reported at 6:25 a.m., occurred near mile marker 11.

First responders with the Hawaii Fire Department initially reported the incident as a hit-and-run after Surnow was found lying face down near a “severely damaged” bicycle on the road’s shoulder. They noted he had died prior to their arrival.

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Buddemeyer was subsequently arrested on suspicion of negligent homicide and released pending further investigation.

He was placed on administrative leave pending investigation. A police misconduct report presented to the Hawaii County Police Commission in February 2016, which does not include names because of state law, said an officer was terminated in 2015 for tampering with the scene after being involved in a traffic fatality. Buddemeyer is no longer on the department’s sworn personnel list.