Suspect in fatal hit-and-run has no driver's license, 164 citations

Feb. 18—Mitchel Yoshiji Miyashiro pleaded not guilty to driving without a license nine days before he allegedly struck and killed 16-year-old Sara Yara and injured another female student who were in a marked crosswalk.

The 45-year-old man arrested in connection with the hit-and-run incident that killed a McKinley High School student has no driver's license and 164 prior traffic citations, according to state court records.

Mitchel Yoshiji Miyashiro pleaded not guilty to driving without a license nine days before he allegedly struck and and injured another female student who were in a marked crosswalk at the intersection of Kapiolani Boulevard and Kamakee Street near the school's athletic field shortly after 6 :40 a.m. Wednesday.

Miyashiro turned himself in to Honolulu police at about 6 :30 p.m. Thursday and was arrested on suspicion of collisions involving death or serious bodily injury, collisions involving bodily injury and first-degree negligent homicide.

He was released while police continue their investigation. Yara's friend was reported in good condition.

The question of how someone with a record of 164 traffic crimes and citations and no driver's license was able to get behind the wheel of a car in Hawaii remains unanswered.

"The driver in this case has been repeatedly cited for driving without a license and other traffic violations. Hawaii law allows individuals like this to be imprisoned, " state House Speaker Scott Saiki told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a statement. "If the driver had not been imprisoned in the past, we need to understand why, and whether we need to strengthen our laws. If they had been, this incident may not have occurred."

Honolulu Police Chief Arthur "Joe " Logan declined to comment on the ongoing hit-and-run investigation. He agreed with Saiki's assessment that a review of existing traffic laws is needed in light of this week's tragedy.

"Decriminalizing certain offenses, such as traffic (violations ) is ... popular nationally. From a law enforcement perspective, it is not supportive of ... helping us keep people safe and secure. Actions have consequences, " said Logan in an interview with the Star-Advertiser.

He noted that certain misdemeanor property crimes become felonies after habitual offenses.

"We need to review and look at the consequences for this behavior."

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm declined to comment.

In 2005, Hawaii lawmakers decriminalized most of the state's traffic code as part of an effort to focus resources on more serious offenses and allowed violators to mail in fines rather than appear in court.

Prior to 2005, police could arrest motorists for any violation of the traffic code, and violators had the right to a trial. Offenders with the means to hire an attorney and demand a trial often held out hope that the officer would not be able to appear for trial and that the traffic case would be dismissed for lack of a speedy trial.

Police also would often use traffic offenses as probable cause in instances when they suspected more serious offenses were occurring.

In Wednesday's deadly incident, police got the license plate number of the silver pickup truck that struck Yara and her friend from a witness to the collision who tailed the truck long enough to get the information, according to multiple sources.

Police went to the address of the truck's registered owners and discovered that Miyashiro's parents were the vehicle's owners. When first confronted by his parents, Miyashiro allegedly told them the truck was stolen and he wanted to file a police report, the sources said.

Miyashiro and his mother did not immediately reply to a Star-Advertiser request for comment.

According to state court records, Miyashiro has been issued traffic citations and charged with traffic misdemeanor crimes at a rate of more than six a year since he was cited for speeding May 29, 1996. Since Jan. 12, 2018, he has been charged 12 times with driving without a license or driving with a suspended license.

Six of those 12 stops for driving without a license happened in 2018.

Since his initial citation for speeding in 1996, Miyashiro has been cited for driving more than 80 miles per hour, using a fraudulent insurance card, not having insurance, driving with inoperable taillights and headlights, being in an accident involving property damage and other traffic violations.

Over the course of his 27-year stretch of traffic offenses, Miyashiro has pleaded no contest, been granted deferred acceptances of his no-contest pleas, been found guilty and paid hundreds of dollars in fines and fees, according to court records. Not once was he jailed for his driving offenses.