HILO — A police officer testified in court Thursday he “fired a shot” at a fleeing Honda Civic last month in Glenwood because he “believed that the person operating the vehicle could still be a threat.”
The testimony of Hilo Special Enforcement Unit Officer Andrew Springer came during a preliminary hearing for 21-year-old Jaggar Dunne-Torres. Dunne-Torres has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree property damage, resisting an order to stop and driving without a license.
Springer said he was driving an unmarked rented Chevy Tahoe with fellow SEU officer Victor McLellan on Volcano Highway (Route 11) the afternoon of Nov. 19 when he spotted a multicolored Honda Civic without license plates make a U-turn by Hirano Store and then enter a driveway. He testified he followed the Civic up the driveway toward a private residence because drivers of cars without license plates are often trying to “hide something,” such as the vehicle being stolen.
According to Springer, who was in civilian clothes the afternoon of the incident, he didn’t immediately recognize the driver, who was talking to someone outside the car, but identified the passenger as Elliot Kakazu. He said when the driver turned toward him, he recognized him as Dunne-Torres from “a previous mugshot.”
Under direct examination by Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Rothfus, Springer said the driver of the Honda reversed about a car length and then “the vehicle started traveling forward at a high rate of speed … directly towards … my vehicle.”
According to Springer, his weapon was drawn as he yelled “police, stop,” but the Honda “just started to go toward the passenger side” of Springer’s rented sport-utility vehicle.
“I could see Officer McLellan … jump back into the front passenger seat as the Honda Civic smashed the passenger door shut and then continued on,” Springer testified. He said the Civic damaged the entire passenger side of the Tahoe.
“At that time, I believed that the person that was operating the vehicle could still be a threat so I … fired a shot at the vehicle,” he said. Springer added he could hear, but did not see the Civic turn toward Volcano on Highway 11.
Springer testified he didn’t pursue the Civic once it left the residence.
Stanton Oshiro, Dunne-Torres’ court-appointed defense counsel, attempted to establish his client might not have known Springer and McLellan were police officers.
He questioned Springer about the placement of his badge on his waist and asked why the rental vehicle wasn’t equipped with blue lights and a siren.
Springer replied that would require modifications to a vehicle neither he nor the police department own, including the drilling of holes.
“You fired a shot at the departing vehicle, correct?” Oshiro asked.
“Correct,” Springer replied.
“Because you said at that time you, quote, still considered it to be a threat,” Oshiro continued.
“Correct,” Springer answered.
“How?” the lawyer inquired.
“It’s going to a main highway,” the officer said.
“How’s it a threat to you, though?” Oshiro queried.
“It’s a threat to everyone around,” the five-year police veteran testified.
Due to time constraints, Hilo District Judge Kimberly Taniyama continued the hearing until 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and ordered McLellan, who is expected to testify, to return then.
Dunne-Torres remains in custody at Hawaii Community Correctional Center in lieu of $158,000 bail.
According to court documents filed by police, McLellan is one of two officers who fired their weapons at a suspect driving a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck in the crowded Puainako KTA Super Stores parking lot in Hilo on Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving.
The alleged driver of the truck, 24-year-old Tearon Pacheco-Fernandez, also appeared in court Thursday and waived her right to a preliminary hearing in that case. She previously pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree criminal property damage plus single counts of first-degree terroristic threatening, resisting an order to stop and leaving the scene of an accident. She also waived her right to a preliminary hearing — which was already in progress — to an unrelated first-degree burglary and first-degree theft case in connection with a May incident.
The waivers kick both cases upstairs to Hilo Circuit Court and Taniyama ordered her to appear for arraignment and plea there at 8 a.m. Dec. 23.
The judge also reduced Pacheco-Fernandez’s bail on the burglary charge from $25,000 to $10,000 in accordance with a plea deal Pacheco-Fernandez cut with prosecutors in return for her waiver of the preliminary hearings.
Pacheco-Fernandez remains in custody at HCCC in lieu of $67,010 bail.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.