WAILUKU - For a high-speed crash on Kula Highway that killed two teenage passengers nearly three years ago, the driver was sentenced Wednesday to a 10-year prison term.
"I don't know if you were just looking for a thrill that night," 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo told Stevens Ramos, 21. "I don't know if you were a maniac on the road. But your actions ended the lives of two promising innocent people."
The crash occurred at about 1:30 a.m. July 5, 2009, as a 1994 Honda Civic driven by Ramos headed downhill on the highway near Hoopalua Drive.
Ramos had left a party in the Waiohuli area and was giving a ride to four passengers in his car. After overtaking a car driven by a man he knew, Ramos couldn't make it back into the downhill lane, a police investigation showed.
Police said that Ramos was going 89 mph in a 45-mph zone when he lost control. The car hit a guardrail on the right shoulder before skidding sideways and spinning across the centerline to hit a portion of guardrail on the uphill shoulder.
All four passengers were ejected from the car. Laula Wallace, a 19-year-old Wailuku resident, died at the scene. Another passenger, 16-year-old Kai'o Fukushima of Wailuku, was taken by ambulance to Maui Memorial Medical Center, where he died later that morning.
Originally charged with two counts of manslaughter, Ramos had pleaded no contest to two reduced charges of first-degree negligent homicide, as well as leaving the scene of a fatal crash and excessive speeding.
"I just wanted to say sorry for what I did," Ramos said in court. "Sorry to everybody."
His attorney, David Sereno, read Ramos' letter to the court saying that he was working full time and had made other changes in his life since the fatal crash.
"Ever since this day, my life has changed," his letter said. "There's not a minute that goes by that this accident hasn't crossed my mind.
"I'm always trying to make positive decisions and always try to do the right things. I don't drink or do drugs anymore."
Ramos, who now lives in Honolulu, also said in his letter that he was trying to become a firefighter. "That way, I can help out the community and save people's lives," he said.
Ramos knew he faced prison as part of his plea agreement but wanted to accept responsibility and take classes while incarcerated, Sereno said.
Although Ramos pleaded no contest to the charge of leaving the scene as part of the plea agreement, Sereno said his client didn't leave the area that night but was sitting on the side of the road.
"Nobody approached him," Sereno said. "He was devastated; he was crying."
About 40 people, most of them family members of the teenagers killed in the crash, filled the courtroom gallery for the sentencing.
Fukushima's mother, Andrea Maniago, said that all of the passengers had asked Ramos to slow down or to pull off to the side of the road to let them out of the car before the crash.
"For whatever reason, you wanted to continue to drive with excessive speed," she said, addressing Ramos.
Speaking after the sentencing, Sereno said that he had no knowledge of the passengers asking Ramos to slow down. "As far as I can tell that didn't happen," Sereno said. He also said that there was no indication Ramos was driving under the influence of alcohol, with one person saying he saw Ramos drink one beer that night and another saying he hadn't seen Ramos consume any alcohol.
Maniago said her memories of her son include seeing him lifeless in his casket and "his usually warm body feeling cold as ice."
"I still hold the good memories close to my heart," she said. "But that early morning, a part of my heart has died with the loss of my son."
Since her son's death, Maniago has spoken at high schools, youth centers and DUI education classes as a Mothers Against Drunk Driving advocate.
"I do this only because I want to make a difference and have a positive outcome on the community," she said. "I do not want for my son to have died in vain. This is why I will relive my son's story."
Jerry Maniago said his son, who was known as "Sumo," was a Baldwin High School student who wrestled, played football as a lineman and had many friends.
"He had a mother who loved him and a sister who adored him and a grandmother who spoiled him," Mr. Maniago said. "He had many cousins, aunties, uncles. He had a big boy exterior. But when it came to his family, he was a teddy bear.
"For me, as a father, he was everything. He was my fishing and diving partner. He would help me around the house and yard. We would go surfing, swimming, diving. We did a lot together. Because of that, everything I do has a memory of Kai'o tied to it."
Mr. Maniago made reference to a head-on collision last month on Kula Highway that killed five young adults who were ejected from a Dodge Neon.
"Recently, five more kids lose their lives to reckless driving," he said. "When will it end? When will society say enough is enough, it's not OK to be reckless?"
Shaiyan Maniago-Fukushima said she was angry with Ramos after learning that her brother's life had been taken. But she said she had chosen to forgive Ramos.
"For some reason, God gave you a second chance in life," she told Ramos. "I just hope you make the best of it."
After the sentencing, Sereno said Ramos wanted to thank Shaiyan. "He won't let her brother's name down," Sereno said. "And he won't let her down for her forgiveness."
Ramos was ordered to pay $17,854 in restitution and a $500 fine.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.