In Memory of Hannah Brown: New Holiday Tradition on Maui Roads Nets Arrest
By Wendy Osher
A tragic accident on Maui is giving birth to new beginnings as the family members join police and Mothers Against Drunk Driving for a new holiday tradition on Maui County roads.
Five months ago this was the spot that claimed the life of a 19-year-old Maui girl. Today it serves as what will be an annual reminder of the stark realities of drinking and driving.
“We don’t want anybody to ever have to feel the loss we are feeling on a daily basis. It’s very unfair.” said Charlene and Everett Brown
On Nov. 29, Hannah Brown, their only daughter, would have celebrated her 20th birthday, but her life was cut short by a drunk driver who was traveling in the wrong direction on the Kūihelani Highway and collided head-on into the car she was in.
“For me personally, it’s really hard. Her birthday is a big deal,” said Charlene. “So especially with it being the day after Thanksgiving this year, it’s already starting to get very emotional.”
Hannah’s death on June 23, was the 11th traffic fatality on Maui. Since then, there have been 10 more, prompting the creation of Maui’s Inaugural Hannah Brown Memorial Impaired Driving Checkpoint.
“Originally I had come up with the idea of doing a sign waving in memory of Hannah and to do it close to her birthday, which just so happen, landed for Thanksgiving,” said Charlene. “So I felt if there was any weekend to do this, it would be that weekend, because that’s what starts the holidays–people drink and they have fun–you know. Let’s try and make them aware.”
“We’re going to do this every year,” said Lieutenant William Hankins, Commander with the Maui Police Department Traffic Division, calling the event ‘unprecedented’ and a ‘first-of-its-kind’ tradition.
“We want to keep people safe, we want to eradicate impaired driving in Maui County. Right now our numbers are 75% alcohol/drug related fatalities. It’s too high. There’s too many families that have been decimated by these preventable crashes.”
Police hope Hannah’s story will hit home with impaired drivers.
“This is the real results of what happens. We see it all the time as traffic investigators. They live it,” said Lt. Hankins.
The weight of Hannah’s passing is still a struggle, but the Brown ʻohana hopes her spirit will continue to uplift and unite others to ensure that all make it home safely for the holidays.
“There’s just something about her, I don’t know if it’s her smile her laughter, the people she brings together, but she’s making an impact,” said Charlene.
On Friday night, police screened 120 vehicles in about two hours, making two arrests–one for driving while under the influence and the other for driving with an open container. Police also issued a citation to a motorist who was driving with a suspended license and a citation for driving without insurance.
Bills at both the state and county level are being introduced this session. In the future, Lt. Hankins said, police hope they can tow vehicles of DUI violators.
“If you get arrested for DUI, you’re going to get your vehicle towed, you’re going to pay for the fine, and you’re going to have to pay for the storage to get your vehicle back. We want to get these people off the road and take away their means of transportation so that they don’t go out and kill somebody.”
According to Lt. Hankins the county council is working with the Multi-Modal Transportation Committee headed by Yuki Lei Sugimura, to adopt an ordinance similar to Aliyah’s Law on Hawaiʻi Island where officers can tow vehicles following a DUI arrest.
At the state level, lawmakers are trying to get Hawaiʻi’s blood alcohol level for violators lowered from .08 to .05. If passed, Hawaiʻi would be only the second state in the nation, behind Utah with such legislation.
“In 2013, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration sent notices to all states that they seriously consider lowering your alcohol levels to 0.05 because people are impaired at .05. It’s been proven that they’re impaired at .05. Point zero eight is too high. We need to lower that and we need the state legislators to listen to the bills and we need their help in pushing this through. And it’s going to save lives,” said Lt. Hankins.
For now, the list of fatalities on Maui County roadways stands at 21 so far this year, compared to 16 at the same time last year.
“There’s all these other families… There’s the Jouveanat family, there’s the Pham family that were coming from Hāliʻimaile. All of these people died for no reason, you know. Don’t drink and drive,” said Lt. Hankins.
“Think about yourself,” said Charlene, “and everybody else’s family.” Her husband Everett agreed saying the message is simple, “Don’t drink and drive.”
With more than 20 traffic fatalities already this year, police are saying, “No more.” Family and friend say it’s already too many.