Waimea man sentenced to 5 years for fatal crash

  • Nicholas Abarcar accepts a plea in March in Kona Circuit Court in connection to a fatal 2019 crash that took the life of a mother of four and sent three minors to the hospital. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

A 26-year-old Waimea man was sentenced Monday to serve a half-decade behind bars for a 2019 crash that claimed the life of a mother of four and injured three girls.

Nicholas Abarcar was sentenced by Kona Circuit Court Judge Robert D.S. Kim to serve five years for second-degree negligent homicide and concurrent one-year sentences for three counts of second-degree negligent injury in connection with the Nov. 10, 2019, crash that killed 35-year-old Cassandra “Cassie” Lynn Ellis, of Kailua-Kona, and injured her three minor passengers.

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Abarcar had faced charges of manslaughter, second-degree negligent homicide, two counts first-degree negligent injury, second-degree negligent injury and operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant in connection with the crash. A plea deal meted with prosecutors resulted in the four of the seven charges being dropped.

Laurel Haserot, the mother of one of the teens injured in the crash, spoke during Monday’s sentencing hearing. Others submitted written testimony.

“Cassie was all love. She took the ultimate sacrifice a mother could,” Haserot said explaining Ellis took the brunt of the crash saving the lives of her daughter Kawena Haserot, as well as her own two girls. “My daughter nearly bled out and died on the side of the road. He (Abarcar) was lucky he didn’t kill all four of them.”

She asked the court to impose the maximum sentence allowed.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kauanoe Jackson said Abarcar was trying to connect his phone to his car speaker when he drifted into oncoming northbound traffic and collided with Ellis’s vehicle, north of the entrance to Kekaha Kai State Park. Ellis and the three girls were headed to Kua Bay for the day.

“This is nothing less than a tragedy. He had a choice,” Jackson said, indicating that intoxication was not a factor in the crash, although it was originally listed as a charge in the August 2020 indictment.

After the hearing, Jackson said she could not comment on the conflicting information. However, Abarcar’s defense attorney, Jason Kwiat told West Hawaii Today that impairment was not an issue.

“Nick has ADHD. The level of Adderall in his system was entirely consistent with what should have been in his system given his prescribed dosage,” said Kwiat. “He was taking his medication as prescribed. He felt no effects at all. It was not a contributing factor, yet the state charged him with manslaughter and negligent homicide in the first degree on that basis.”

He added that ultimately the parties agreed it was not a factor that led to the collision and the cause was distracted driving.

“The event data recorder indicated he was not speeding nor was he trying to pass. He was trying to connect his USB to the radio. He should have been focused on the road, no doubt, but it was not impairment and not recklessness,” Kwiat said.

During the hearing, Kwiat said probation and community service was an appropriate sentence in the case because Abarcar was not speeding, he was just fiddling with his phone.

“It was distracted driving. Nick is devastated,” he said. “He is devastated he caused so much pain because he wanted to hook up his phone to the radio.”

Abarcar then addressed the court and family and friends of Ellis.

“I am so eternally sorry for what I have done. I have caused unimaginable pain,” he said. “Cassie is with me every single day. My greatest desire is to do something to make it right.”

Abarcar said he was ready to accept whatever sentence the court imposed.

“I just ask for forgiveness from God,” he said before Kim sentenced him.

“What is justice?” asked Kim. “On one side we are asked to send him to prison, on the other side it’s probation and community service. In the blink of an eye someone is dead. She died horribly in front of her daughters. This tragedy was senseless.”

Kim said the crash was completely avoidable when he imposed the maximum sentence.

“What you did, you have to pay the price,” said Kim. “This is a warning and a message to the community to pay attention when driving. Miss Ellis had nothing but happiness followed by death.”

After sentencing, Ellis’s father, Jim Ellis, expressed his dismay of the justice system.

“I am very disappointed at the charges being lowered,” he said. “I didn’t agree with that. It has been quite an education, but we had no choice in the matter.”

Ellis’s daughter, Taylor Campogan, who was injured in the crash, also expressed her frustration of the sentence.

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“It’s not what I had in mind but I feel like whatever happened, it wouldn’t bring back my mom,” she said.

Campogan said she was thankful for the outpouring of community support her family has received and hopes Abarcar will use his time in jail to reflect on what he did.