StarAdvertiser columnist David Shapiro provided insightful updates today regarding the near-tragic incident on the night of February 22, 2021. Honolulu police arrested Representative Sharon Har after observing her driving in the head-on direction of one-way traffic traveling on busy South Beretania near the intersection Pi’ikoi street.
This is a particularly newsworthy event as Ms. Har in March 2007, 14 years ago this month, survived a horrendous crash on Fort Barrette Road that totaled her Mercedes. A 23-year-old driver with two previous drunken driving cases slammed into her vehicle. StarAdvertiser reported the other driver was prohibited from driving and faced a third drunken driving case for the crash.
The collision sent Ms. Har to Queen’s Medical Center and motivated her to lead the effort a year later to create Hawaii’s interlock ignition requirements for drunken drivers. Representative Har also inspired the state legislature to add additional penalties, which ironically she now faces, including a mandatory revocation of her driver’s license for two years for refusing to take a breath or blood test following her arrest on South Beretania Street.
The two-year license revocation for refusing to take a breath or blood test is now “set in stone,” largely due to Har’s efforts. In essence, you’re punished if you don’t take the test.
Patrick McPherson, local attorney
Representative Har (D, Kapolei-Makakilo) is a 52-year-old mother of twin 3-year-old daughters who has had several traffic violations going back to 1996, mostly for driving without insurance. StarAdvertiser disclosed it appears from court records the February arrest was her first for suspicion of drunken driving. Ms. Har is an associate at the Honolulu law firm of Bays Lung Rose Voss.
After being a victim of drunk driving in 2007, Ms. Har worked closely with the Hawai’i chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on the bill. Chapter founder Carol McNamee called Har’s arrest “painful.”
“Sharon Har helped us out. She knew what the rules were.”
Carol McNamee, founder Hawai’i chapter of MADD
I’ve worked with MADD for years. Was recruited for a PhD program in political science in 1991 and volunteered to counsel youngsters to encourage them to resist temptations to initiate tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption and illicit drug use. As a former pro athlete, coaches with the University of New Mexico extended me invitation to train with the Lobos. In this capacity, I mentored a young player named Lance Milford.
It was Christmas Eve 1992. The LA Times reported, “Following an evening church service last Christmas Eve, Paul and Melanie Cravens, along with her three young daughters, were headed to the [Nine Mile Hill] overlook to take in the city lights. Later, they would visit Melanie’s mother [Nadine Milford]. They never reached their destination.”
As he drove west on the interstate on a dark, moonless night, Paul Cravens had no warning until it was too late that 34-year-old Gordon House was traveling eastbound in their lane. A shattering instant later, House’s red Ford pickup split the family’s white sedan apart, killing Melanie and her daughters, Kandyce, 9, Erin, 8, and Kacee Woodard, 5.
Paul Cravens woke up Christmas day with a crushed chest and serious head injuries to learn he had lost his wife and three daughters. Although House had been driving at speeds up to 90mph, he suffered only severe cuts and broken bones. The timing of this incident and horrendous loss of life infuriated all of New Mexico. My friend Lance was devastated suffering the loss of family. I joined MADD, as New Mexico was a national leader in drunk driving incidents and death.
Part of our work eliminated drive up windows allowing vehicle drivers to purchase alcohol beverages, i.e., beer, wine and hard alcohol, without ever leaving their car. One of my targets was Foxes Booze N’ Cruise. There were about 300 drive up locations in New Mexico at the time. There are none today.
Crisis of Drunk and Intoxicated Driving
MADD Hawai’i points out going the wrong way takes drinking and driving to another level of danger. Representative Har Representative now claims she had a beer after a late evening at work and the drink paired with her prescribed cough medication led to her impairment. This does not appear to be a truthful statement.
“I have had an upper respiratory illness for several weeks now. As a result, I have been taking prescribed cough medication with codeine to control the symptoms associated with my illness. On February 22, 2021, after a late evening at work, I had a beer with my dinner. This, in conjunction with my medication, contributed to my impaired driving. I am extremely sorry for not anticipating the effect of this combination on my driving.”
Hawai’i State Representative Sharon Har
HPD arresting officers reported Ms. Har told them she hadn’t taken prescription medications. In addition, officer Christopher Morgado reported Har, “spoke with a slow, slurred speech, and had red, glassy eyes … I could smell a strong odor of a consumed alcoholic type beverage coming from within the vehicle, and would get stronger as she spoke.”
“She’s very lucky that she didn’t hurt somebody else or herself. I’m sure today she’s realizing how dangerous it was and how foolish.”
Theresa Paulette, MADD Hawaii’s Victim Services Specialist
One beer at dinner with food is unlikely to have caused such a powerful interaction with a codeine-based medication, and certainly unlikely to lead to a “strong odor” of a consumed alcoholic type beverage coming from the vehicle.
Further, police reported that Har, while unsteady on her feet, cried “Black Lives Matter,” asked if they knew who she was and said they were ruining her plans “to be the next governor.”
Most importantly, by refusing to take a breath or blood test, she eliminated her only defense of the alcohol-drug interaction. Had she actually consumed just “one beer with food” at dinner, her blood-alcohol-level would have been relatively low.
If Ms. Har had taken either test, she would have faced only a one-year revocation of her license when she appeared before the state’s Administrative Driver’s License Revocation Office, a civil procedure independent from her criminal court case. As an attorney with expertise in these related laws, surely Representative Har would have submitted to the test to provide evidence of her claim.
Ultimately, we must conclude Ms. Har not only behaved recklessly and criminally behind the wheel, acted unprofessionally with the arresting officers, but violated the public’s trust by lying about facts in this matter and for refusing to submit to testing she helped codify into Hawai’i state law.
Shaming Is Not Helpful or Appropriate
I feel deeply sorry for Sharon Har and ask all readers to keep her in your prayers. Ms. Har appears to have an abusive relationship with alcohol. A friend told me the other day he had seen her “sloshed” recently at a Waikiki establishment. Drunk drivers are rarely arrested the first time they get behind the wheel in an intoxicated condition. It’s likely Ms. Har has pushed limits previously as well.
Yet shaming isn’t helpful. Ms. Har, the people of Honolulu, and any potential victims were spared February 22nd. This could have been similar to the horror my athletic friend, Lance Milford, suffered in 1992 … or hundreds of thousands of families have suffered since that time.
Attorney General Clare Connors recently signaled her opposition to further liberalization of recreational or medical cannabis laws due to her “concerns” over intoxicated driving. I criticized the AG for her racist and ill-informed position:
As a medical cannabis patient and advocate, I support strong measures to protect the public against intoxicated driving. While the AG continues draconian policies against cannabis, Ms. Har was not “stoned” or “high” on cannabis … she claims a combination of alcohol and opioid-prescription medication. And this is exactly the focus of my public health efforts.
As a society, we continue what are racist policies against cannabis, yet remain simply too lenient about driving and alcohol intoxication. A suspected drunk driver plowed into a crowded Kaka’ako intersection in January 2019, killing two pedestrians and a bicyclist that fateful Monday night. HPD said speed and alcohol likely played a role in the crash.
Mr. Kollar described the defendant as a 26-year-old woman whose baby was 20 months at the time of the alleged infraction. She was not wearing a wedding ring and stood alone next to her assigned public defender, which suggested she was a single mother. There were no family or friends with her in the court room. She was dressed simply and appeared to be quite poor.
I was in a courtroom on Kaua’i in 2015 when I observed the county’s prosecuting attorney, Justin Kollar, berating and shaming a young woman for her failure behind the wheel. Treating her this way as she stood alone before the court and judge is not helpful to recovery. She was a single mother. Loss of driver’s license on Kaua’i would possibly lead to loss of employment, as there isn’t a robust public transportation system. She was embarrassed publicly and now found herself in a deep, dark pit of trouble.
As I wrote at the time, “Mr. Kollar carried his commentary to the point of extremism. He repeatedly bullied the young defendant. Shame on you for driving while intoxicated! Shame on you for drinking so much so early in the day! Shame on you for putting your baby at risk! Shame on you for threatening society this way! Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Let’s stop shaming each other for our personal and professional failures. None of us are perfect. We’re all sinners in some way. Please reach out and extend Sharon Har your support, love, kindness and compassion. She needs friends and family by her side at this time.
Yet unequivocally, Representative Sharon Har has violated the public’s trust, not solely for her lapse consuming alcohol, but her apparently untruthful explanation to the public and refusal to submit to one of two required tests for a driver in such circumstances — importantly, measures she helped secure in her tenure working with MADD and the state legislature.
Ms. Har, please resign your position as a state representative.
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