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Hit-and-run driver says she fled in fear

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The 25-year-old Kalihi woman who says she hit a 4-year-old girl in a Moiliili crosswalk explained yesterday that she fled the scene because she was too afraid to stop.

Jelleenta James was driving her SUV to church Sunday with her mother, cousin and two young daughters inside when she hit Rikanin Kanto, who was in a crosswalk on South King Street.

James said she didn’t see the girl, but that her mother told her that she had hit someone. James turned around at Beretania Street near the Burger King, but couldn’t bear to stop and went home.

“I feel bad,” she said.

Rikanin was seriously injured in the hit-and-run near Coolidge Street, where she lives. She was crossing the street in the signal-less crosswalk with her family about 3:30 p.m. when some vehicles stopped for them.

Rikanin darted ahead and was struck by a sport utility vehicle that drove through the crosswalk and fled. The girl’s family said her leg was broken in the accident.

James was arrested at about 8 p.m. Tuesday at the McDonald’s on Nimitz Highway, where she works, said Honolulu police Lt. David Nilsen. She was booked on a felony hit-and-run offense, but was released pending further investigation, which is standard procedure. Police also seized her Ford SUV and are awaiting a search warrant to examine it, Nilsen said.

James said she feels terrible about the accident and has been having a hard time, continually thinking about the crash. She also thought about finding the girl’s parents.

“I was kind of worried about the kid, if something happened,” she said. “After that I was crying. I tried to go back to help, but I really was scared.”

James, a single mother who came to Hawaii from Micronesia about seven years ago, lives with her mother, cousin, sister and two daughters in their ground-floor apartment. She is the only one who works and pays the rent in the home, and she hopes she can return to work. She worries about what will happen to her daughters, who are 3 and 6.

“I’m not the kind of person to do something bad,” she said.

“I’m really scared about what happens next,” she continued. “I’d like to apologize to them. I want to talk with her parents. I’m really sorry about what happened.”

Police said a witness was able to provide a license plate number that led them to the suspect.

The father of the girl, Kason Kanto, said he was working and hadn’t heard from police that a suspect was arrested so he did not want to comment. He said his daughter returned home from the hospital.

“My daughter still looks bad,” he said. “I worry so much for my daughter.”

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