KAILUA-KONA — A 25-year-old Waimea man Sunday arrested on suspicion of negligent homicide and DUI following a two-car crash near Ke Kahakai State Park that killed a 35-year-old mother and hospitalized three girls has a prior conviction for drunken driving.
Nicholas Abarcar was operating a black 2017 Jeep Renegade SUV southbound on Queen Kaahumanu Highway when he passed a vehicle in a passing zone and collided head-on with a northbound gray 2015 Honda Pilot SUV about a quarter-mile north of mile marker 90, according to the Hawaii Police Department. The crash was reported at 2:10 p.m. north of the entrance to Ke Kahakai State Park in a 55-mph zone.
The crash killed the 35-year-old woman operating the Honda, and sent her three passengers, identified as two girls, both age 15, and one 10-year-old girl, to Kona Community Hospital. Police on Monday identified the victim as Cassandra “Cassie” Lynn Ellis, of Kailua-Kona.
According to court records, Abarcar pleaded no contest to DUI, having a blood alcohol content over 0.08%, back on May 15, 2018. The now-25-year-old had been arrested and charged with DUI and driving without a license following a traffic stop on Aug. 22, 2017.
He was found guilty and sentenced to pay $312 in fines and fees, $350 in restitution and complete driver’s education and a substance abuse rehabilitation program. His license was also revoked from Sept. 22, 2017, through Sept. 21, 2018.
Police suspect speed and drugs played a role in the fatal crash that closed Queen Kaahumanu Highway between Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole and Waikoloa Road until shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday while police investigated the scene.
On Monday, police said the two 15-year-old girls suffered severe injuries in the wreck and were initially transported to Kona Community Hospital, but later flown to The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu for treatment. Both were listed in critical condition when transported to the Honolulu facility.
By Monday afternoon, the conditions of the two teenage girls had been upgraded to serious, but stable, according to Sean Ibara, coordinator for Corporate Communications at The Queen’s Medical Center. No additional information was immediately available.
Attempts to reach the family of Ellis were unsuccessful as of press time on Monday. However, friends of the victim described the woman as beautiful, hardworking and dedicated to her four daughters.
“An amazing, beautiful, wonderful person, woman, daughter, sister, mother,” said Beth Morin. “It’s absolutely devastating.”
Morin, who met Ellis and three of her children while working with Ellis’s ex-husband about six years ago, worked for Ellis’s company, Two Chicks Cleaning Services, earlier this year after returning to the island in December.
“We became very close. She always supported me. Our friendship grew in a very short time,” said Morin.
Morin learned Ellis was killed in the crash Sunday afternoon after receiving a message on Facebook from a coworker. She said she was on her way to Kua Bay at the time and was turned around at the airport due to the crash.
She later learned that’s where her friend with her two daughters, ages 15 and 10, and her daughter’s friend, also age 15, were headed.
“That was her spare time,” Morin said of Ellis and her kids who loved the sand, sun and surf. “She worked, she had her own business, she busted her ass for her kids. … Everybody was just going to the beach, to enjoy a Sunday, Kua Bay Sunday.”
By Monday afternoon, a memorial for Ellis had been set up on the mauka side of the highway.
“She’ll be forever remembered. She was an amazing person. She did everything and everything she could to help the people who were around her and it’s tragic,” Morin said. “It’s absolutely tragic.”
Kumu Hula Kenneth “Aloha” Victor worked with three of Ellis’s daughters in Halau Kalaakeakauikawekiu and remembers Ellis as being “bright-futured” and a “relatable mom.”
“She wasn’t just that mom that told her kids, ‘no, no, no,’ she would really have conversations with the kids and have them make those decisions,” he said.
He said her eldest daughter, Taylor, one of the two 15-year-olds hospitalized at The Queen’s Medical Center, won soloist at the 2017 E Malama Mau I Ka Hula Festival — not an easy feat because a soloist must command the stage.
“My peanut, such a beautiful, big hearted little human. Mahalo ke akua for giving me this life and mahalo Kenneth Victor for guiding her to this opportunity,” Ellis wrote on Oct. 15, 2017, after her daughter’s win. “I couldn’t be more proud of my daughter, every day she just blows my mind.”
Gofundme pages have been created to help support Taylor Campogan, and her friend, identified as Kawena Haserot. Within just hours, each page had raised over $5,000. Later Monday, a Gofundme page was created to support Ellis.
The driver of the Jeep Renegade, Abarcar, was injured in the crash and was taken to Kona Community Hospital for treatment of undisclosed injuries, according to police.
He was later arrested on suspicion of first-degree negligent homicide, DUI, reckless driving and three counts first-degree negligent injury in connection with the Sunday afternoon crash. After conferring with prosecutors, who declined to immediately press charges, Abarcar was released without charges pending further investigation.
An autopsy has been ordered to determine the exact cause of death.
The Area II Traffic Enforcement Unit has initiated a negligent homicide investigation and is asking anyone who may have witnessed the crash to contact Officer Kelsey Kobayashi at 326-4646, ext. 229 or 339-5651. Those who prefer to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300 in Hilo.
Ellis’s death marked the 18th traffic fatality on Big Island public roadways this year compared to 27 at this time last year.
Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporter John Burnett contributed to this report.