The City and County of Honolulu is set to pay $10 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who was killed in Kakaako in 2019 when a driver fleeing police plowed through a group of pedestrians.

The Honolulu City Council already unanimously approved the settlement in committee and will hold a final vote on the matter on Wednesday.

Photo: A Honolulu police officer was chasing a speeding vehicle in Kakaako in 2019 when the civilian plowed into pedestrians, killing three and injuring four others.
A Honolulu police officer was chasing a speeding vehicle in Kakaako in 2019 when the civilian drove into a group of pedestrians, killing three and injuring four others. Hawaii News Now

On Jan. 28, 2019, Officer Sheldon Watts was pursuing a Ford F-150 driven by Alins Sumang in the Ala Moana and Victoria Ward areas, the complaint states. The officer allegedly chased Sumang down Ala Moana Boulevard at speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour, according to the complaint, filed in state court in December 2020.

At the intersection of Ala Moana Boulevard and Kamakee Street, Sumang drove off the road and into several pedestrians waiting to cross the street.

William Travis Lau, an anesthesiologist, was among the three who died. In March, Sumang pleaded guilty to killing three people, including Lau, and injuring four others. He is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence.

The lawsuit filed by Lau’s widow, Melissa-Iris Lau, and his parents, Esther and William Lau, argued that the police officer created an “unreasonable risk of danger” and that his conduct was negligent.

Lau’s attorney L. Richard Fried did not respond to a request for comment. In 2019, Melissa-Iris Lau said her husband was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. 

“My husband was just out there enjoying himself, exercising, and this senseless thing is what took him away from the world, took him away from me,” she said.

The city never filed an answer to the lawsuit, according to the court docket. First Deputy Corporation Counsel Krishna Jayaram did not respond to a request for comment on Monday afternoon.

In an email, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said a disciplinary case for Watts is pending. She didn’t offer any details.

“This incident was tragic and we at HPD extend our sympathies to the Lau family,” she said. “As there are other claims pending that arise out of this incident, HPD will refrain from further comment until those matters are resolved.”

In November 2019, two survivors – Lianna McCurdy, Daniel Verderame – and Gail Garin, the mother of a man who was killed, filed a negligence lawsuit in state court against Sumang, Honolulu and Watts.

Their complaint accused Watts of violating the police department’s policy on pursuits by failing to activate his lights and siren. It also notes that HPD policy states supervisors should halt pursuits when they become dangerous.

The case was transferred to federal court in February, and the parties are scheduled to discuss a settlement next year, court records show.

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