Well­man com­mit­ted to Hawaii State Hos­pi­tal

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By LILA FU­JI­MOTO

Judge rules woman, ac­quit­ted of traf­fic deaths by rea­son of in­san­ity, not safe to re­turn to com­mu­nity

ex­plains his rea­sons for not grant­ing Ash­ley Well­man su­per­vised re­lease Fri­day morn­ing. Well­man, 34, of Waiehu was ac­quit­ted of mur­der by rea­son of in­san­ity in con­nec­tion with the Oc­to­ber

2016 traf­fic deaths of Pukalani res­i­dents Debi Wylie, 63, and Traci Wine­gar­ner, 57. They died in a truck that Well­man crashed into while driv­ing a Nis­san Sen­tra. Staff Writer

WAILUKU — A woman ac­quit­ted of mur­der by rea­son of in­san­ity was com­mit­ted to the Hawaii State Hos­pi­tal on Fri­day, with a judge say­ing it wasn’t ap­pro­pri­ate to re­lease her into the com­mu­nity.

“I think that this de­fen­dant can­not be ad­e­quately con­trolled in the com­mu­nity,” 2nd Cir­cuit Men­tal Health Court Judge Richard Bis­sen said, in rul­ing in the case of Ash­ley Well­man.

Well­man, 34, of Waiehu had sought to be re­leased af­ter she was ac­quit­ted of mur­der and other charges for caus­ing an Oct.

8, 2016, crash on Haleakala

High­way in

Pukalani. She was driv­ing a

Nis­san sedan trav­el­ing 127 mph in the up­hill di­rec­tion when she ran a red light and hit a 1998 Toy­ota pickup truck that was turn­ing left from Makani Road onto the high­way, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Pukalani res­i­dents Debi Wylie, 63, and Traci Wine­gar­ner, 57, who were in the truck, died at the scene of the crash.

On Aug. 7, 2nd Cir­cuit Judge Peter Cahill ac­quit­ted Well­man in a non­jury stip­u­lated-facts trial. His ver­dict was based on re­ports by three men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als who ex­am­ined Well­man and found that she had been af­fected by a phys­i­cal or men­tal dis­ease, dis­or­der or de­fect that sub­stan­tially im­paired her ca­pac­ity to con­form her con­duct to the re­quire­ments of the law at the time of the crash.

The same three psy­chol­o­gists or psy­chi­a­trists said Well­man was then men­tally fit to pro­ceed in her crim­i­nal case.

Bis­sen said said he couldn’t think of a sim­i­lar case where ex­perts found a de­fen­dant “so se­verely im­pacted by their men­tal ill­ness that they are ex­cused from tak­ing a life.”

“Think about that. We’re not talk­ing about some­one ex­cused from steal­ing some­thing from a store or tak­ing a car or do­ing some­thing that, un­for­tu­nately, hap­pens all the time in our com­mu­nity,” Bis­sen said. “Some­one has died. The ac­tions of this in­di­vid­ual were so se­vere that she was ex­cused from this con­duct and she is not re­spon­si­ble for her con­duct. And yet in a short time — and I’m just try­ing to wrap my head around that — she is no longer im­pacted by that.”

Shortly af­ter the crash, Well­man re­port­edly told a worker in the emer­gency room at Maui Memo­rial Med­i­cal Cen­ter that she “was orig­i­nally go­ing up to Haleakala Crater to be at peace,” but changed her mind and “just wanted to die.”

Po­lice said “she re­fused to give a state­ment and said she wanted to con­tact her at­tor­ney” when a po­lice of­fi­cer talked to her that af­ter­noon.

More than a year later, in in­ter­views with the three men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als, Well­man de­nied she had been sui­ci­dal the day of the crash. She told the doc­tors she had been delu­sional and was try­ing to es­cape from an un­cle who had sex­u­ally as­saulted her in the past.

“We may never know why this oc­curred,” Bis­sen said Fri­day. “Two years later, that’s some­how still in doubt.

“What’s not in doubt, all three doc­tors agree that the de­fen­dant con­tin­ues to pose a risk to our com­mu­nity. They just dis­agree on what level that is.”

While Dr. Mar­tin Blinder and state psy­chol­o­gist Alex Lich­ton said Well­man posed a low risk of dan­ger to her­self and oth­ers if re­leased into the com­mu­nity, psy­chol­o­gist Ge­orge Choi rated her risk at moder­ate to high and rec­om­mended

she be com­mit­ted to the state health di­rec­tor for ad­di­tional treat­ment. In his re­port, Lich­ton said he be­lieved Well­man was feign­ing or ex­ag­ger­at­ing psy­chotic symp­toms to gain a fa­vor­able court out­come.

The three doc­tors agreed that Well­man needs treat­ment, Bis­sen said. “The only ques­tion is where should she get that treat­ment,” Bis­sen said.

De­fense at­tor­ney Matthew Nardi said con­di­tional re­lease would be ap­pro­pri­ate for Well­man, who “re­sponds well to treat­ment.”

At the time of the crash, she had stopped tak­ing her pre­scribed men­tal health med­i­ca­tion be­cause she had no med­i­cal in­sur­ance, Nardi said.

Deputy Pros­e­cu­tor An­drew Mar­tin said Well­man gave an­other ex­pla­na­tion to her doc­tor at Kaiser Be­hav­ioral Health, say­ing the med­i­ca­tion “wasn’t work­ing for me. I didn’t like it. I stopped tak­ing it.”

Mar­tin said com­mit­ment to the state hos­pi­tal was “the best way to ad­dress her needed treat­ment and the risks of dan­ger to the com­mu­nity.”

Af­ter she shows she is mak­ing progress at the State Hos­pi­tal, Well­man could be moved into a half­way house, group home or su­per­vised liv­ing sit­u­a­tion or into a pro­gram to ad­dress both her sub­stance abuse and men­tal health is­sues, Mar­tin said. “And even­tu­ally, when the time is ap­pro­pri­ate, be tran­si­tioned back to the com­mu­nity on Maui if that does be­come ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said.

“But the idea of go­ing from A to Z and skip­ping ev­ery step in be­tween is one that in this case de­fies all logic and com­mon sense,” Mar­tin said. “Ev­ery­one agrees . . . the risk

of dan­ger is ex­treme, is as ex­treme as it can get. The his­tory of the pa­tient is one that in­volves lethal­ity. So that’s our great­est risk mov­ing for­ward.”

Bis­sen said he had to con­sider whether Well­man should re­ceive treat­ment at home, where she could walk to her ther­a­pist and coun­sel­ing, or be con­fined to the State Hos­pi­tal.

He said the State Hos­pi­tal didn’t want Well­man there, “but not be­cause she doesn’t need to be there.”

“It’s be­cause they have more se­vere peo­ple they feel should be there,” Bis­sen said. “Their space is lim­ited. If they had space to ac­com­mo­date her, they would prob­a­bly have a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion.”

In rul­ing that Well­man be com­mit­ted to the State Hos­pi­tal for fur­ther treat­ment and su­per­vi­sion, Bis­sen said he agreed with psy­chol­o­gist Choi, whose opin­ion was “more per­sua­sive, more well in­formed and more sup­ported by the ev­i­dence.”

“I don’t think the de­fen­dant is ready for con­di­tional re­lease at this point in time,” Bis­sen said. “Based on the opin­ions of all three doc­tors, it looks like she will be and she can be, but it’s not go­ing to be to­day.

“I have to bal­ance the in­ter­ests of Ms. Well­man with the in­ter­ests of the rest of our com­mu­nity. I don’t think it comes down to what she wishes or wants. I think it’s what she needs.”

Well­man, who had been held tem­po­rar­ily at the Hawaii State Hos­pi­tal since be­ing ac­quit­ted, was trans­ported back to the hos­pi­tal af­ter the rul­ing Fri­day.

The judge set a re­view hear­ing for April 24.

Lila Fu­ji­moto can be reached at lfu­ji­moto@mauinews.com.

Well­man

The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Ash­ley Well­man sits with at­tor­ney Matthew Nardi dur­ing Fri­day’s hear­ing

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