A 54-year-old Kona woman who was drunk when she ran a red light in Kailua-Kona and crashed into a car, killing a 17-month-old girl and permanently injuring her mother, has been paroled after serving less than three years of a 10-year prison term.
Valereen Kaleohano-Knittle was granted her freedom Oct. 3 by the Hawaii Paroling Authority. She had been sentenced on Dec. 7, 2010, to 10 years in prison for negligent homicide and negligent injury in connection with the fatal crash that killed Aliyah Braden and injured Mayvelyn Braden.
Kaleohano-Knittle had been driving a pickup truck on the evening of May 23, 2009, and ran a red light at the intersection of Kuakini Highway and Lako Street in Kailua-Kona, crashing into a car driven by Mayvelyn Braden, then 24. The Bradens were en route to the Fun Factory for a play date.
Hilo attorney Cody Frenz represented Kaleohano-Knittle at the parole board hearing. She told Stephens Media Hawaii her client had made positive changes in her life since and as a result of the fatal collision.
“The discussion on behalf of the paroling authority members that were present was that she had been doing quite well,” Frenz said Wednesday. “She had been actively engaged in treatment. … She stipulated to the prison sentence, participated in all the prison programs and completed those, as well.”
Frenz said her client was “very remorseful” and had “taken full and complete responsibility for her actions and the outcome.” She added that Kaleohano-Knittle had been on extended furlough in the community before being granted parole.
“As of the time of the parole hearing, she had three jobs and she was going to (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) as well as some church support groups, and has been sober since the day of the incident,” Frenz said.
Aliyah Braden’s father, Wayne Braden, became an advocate for tougher drunken driving laws and an unofficial spokesman for the ignition interlock law signed into law by then-Gov. Linda Lingle less than two weeks after his daughter was killed. A 2011 county ordinance allowing police to impound the vehicle of an individual arrested for drunken driving has been named “Aliyah’s Law” in her honor.
Frenz said that Wayne Braden wasn’t at the hearing nor was anyone representing him or his family. A cell number Stephens Media had for Braden has been reassigned, and an official of Kona Seventh-day Adventist Church, where Braden worshipped, said that he had moved to the mainland a couple of months ago and the church had no contact information.
Wayne and Mayvelyn Braden have since divorced, and a wrongful death lawsuit they filed against Kaleohano-Knittle was settled, Honolulu attorney Stu Cowan, who represented the Bradens, confirmed.
At her sentencing hearing, Kaleohano-Knittle apologized to the Bradens, saying she was “filled with shame and guilt for what I’ve taken from you.”
“I am fully aware that my decision to drive caused disastrous consequences and I’m so, so sorry,” said Kaleohano-Knittle, whose reported blood-alcohol content the night of the crash was .249, more than three times the legal threshold for intoxication. She told the Bradens and the court that she was regularly attending AA meetings.
“My life’s passion will be to stop drunken driving. I will work to keep drunken drivers off the road,” she said as Wayne Braden approached the defense desk and the two, both in tears, embraced.
Chelsea Jensen of Stephens Media Hawaii contributed to this story. Email John Burnett at email@example.com.