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Pflueger guilty of reckless endangering in Ka Loko tragedy

By Ken Kobayashi

LAST UPDATED: 05:58 p.m. HST, Jul 18, 2013

LIHUE >> Retired car dealer James Pflueger pleaded no contest this morning to a charge of reckless endangering related to the 2006 Ka Loko dam breach that sent hundreds of millions of gallons of water downstream and swept seven people to their deaths.

Based on the plea, Circuit Judge Randal Valenciano found Pflueger guilty of the charge.

In exchange for the plea, state prosecutors say they will be dropping seven manslaughter counts against the 87-year-old landowner.

Pflueger faced up to five years in prison on the charge, but the state Attorney General’s office issued a statement this afternoon saying that as part of the plea deal, he will serve five years probation.

However, at sentencing, scheduled for Jan. 23, the state can ask the Court to impose conditions of probation, “including community service, a fine and imprisonment for up to one year,” the statement said.

The maximum sentence for each manslaughter charge had been 20 years in prison.

As part of a plea agreement with state prosecutors, Pflueger’s company, Pacific 808 Properties, also pleaded no contest to seven counts of manslaughter.

The judge also found the company guilty based on its no contest plea. The company agreed to pay the maximum fine of $350,000 for the manslaughter charges.

The state said “proceeds from the fine are intended to be used to enhance the dam inspection and safety program administered by the Department of Land and Natural Resources under the Hawaii Dam and Reservoir Safety Act of 2007, enacted after the tragic Ko Loko Dam breach.”

Pflueger and his attorneys had no comment after this morning’s hearing.

In the statement released this afternoon, Attorney General David Louie said, "I am satisfied that by entering into this plea agreement Pflueger has accepted responsibility for his part in this tragedy.  It is my hope that the events of today can provide a degree of closure for the families and community affected by the Ka Loko Dam breach." 

Teresa Tico, one of the lawyers for the families of the victims, said the plea deal had been “vetted” with her clients.

“Any conviction shows justice has prevailed to a greater or lesser degree,” she said.

Tico said she can’t say whether the agreement was a “sweetheart” deal for Pflueger.

She said no one can guess the outcome of any trial, and even if Pflueger was found guilty, there might be years of appeals.

“I’m gratified there will be some closure for my clients,” Tico said.

Seven people were killed when the dam for the Ka Loko reservoir breached March 14, 2006. Killed were Alan Gareth Dingwall, Daniel Jay Arroyo, Rowan Grey Makana Fehring-Dingwall, Aurora Solveig Fehring, Christina Michelle McNees, Timothy Wendell Noonan Jr. and Carl Wayne Rotstein.

Pflueger’s plea signals the end to more than four years of criminal litigation.

In 2008, a Kauai grand jury indicted Pflueger on the manslaughter charges. 

Pflueger was accused of filling the dam safety spillway in disregard of the risk that the dam might break and thus causing the seven deaths. He pleaded not guilty and maintained that filling the spillway did not cause the breach.

The case ran into a lengthy delay when Pflueger’s lawyers appealed a 2010 decision by Valenciano who refused to dismiss the manslaughter charges.

In 2011, the state appeals court affirmed the judge’s ruling. The Hawaii Supreme Court declined later in the year to review the appeals court ruling, clearing the way for the resumption of the criminal trial proceedings.

In 2012, Pflueger’s lawyers filed another request to throw out the charges, but the hearing was repeatedly postponed until today, when it was canceled because of the plea agreement.

Pflueger’s plea to reckless endangering follows his acquittal in March on federal tax fraud and related conspiracy charges.

U. S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi found at the end of the nonjury trial that prosecutors failed to prove that Pflueger willfully filed false income tax returns and that he conspired with others to file false returns.

Pflueger was supposed agree to the plea deal in the Ka Loko case the following month, but he rejected the agreement.

State prosecutors, however, said the deal still remained on the table and it was up to Pflueger as to whether to accept it.

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turbolink wrote:
Pflueger / Pacific Honda got the name change done just in time.
on July 18,2013 | 11:53AM
CriticalReader wrote:
Smilin' like the cat who ate the cow.
on July 18,2013 | 12:00PM
DCH wrote:
Laughable. Sadly, but true.
on July 18,2013 | 12:10PM
allie wrote:
Money buys injustice What a disgrace for Hawaii's bad judiciary system.
on July 18,2013 | 01:00PM
Rickyboy wrote:
What a bargain for the lost lives!. Money talks. Drag the legal system to the limits. All in the family.
on July 18,2013 | 12:17PM
entrkn wrote:
87 now so he has stalled this 7 years already and he will stall the jail time until he dies and he will have bought his way out...
on July 18,2013 | 12:18PM
den1718 wrote:
wow. Politics and money that all it takes in Hawaii.
on July 18,2013 | 12:25PM
allie wrote:
yup...he murdered 7 and walks away.
on July 18,2013 | 01:01PM
tiki886 wrote:
Pflueger may have gotten away with manslaughter on a lesser charge of reckless endangering which only gave him probation but now begins the civil trial for financial liability.

87 years old...what a way to end your life in disgrace. And his son is probably going to spend some time in jail as well.

on July 18,2013 | 12:33PM
autumnrose wrote:
No. He was already successfully sued for $25 million -- the state & county too --but he defaulted ...
on July 18,2013 | 01:26PM
tiki886 wrote:
I'm not a lawyer but can you bring a civil suit and win or lose before a criminal lawsuit?

How do you "default" if you have property and assets to confiscate for the victims?

on July 18,2013 | 02:51PM
Kailuaraised wrote:
You hire an expensive financial planner and lawyer to put all of your assets in someone else's name before your found guilty in the civil case. That, or move all your assets off shore.
on July 18,2013 | 03:59PM
lee1957 wrote:
What did his son have to do with the Kauai property?
on July 18,2013 | 04:58PM
lowtone123 wrote:
What a d0nkey!
on July 18,2013 | 12:34PM
allie wrote:
That he is. He is native Hawaiian...his great grandmother was one of those rich Hawaiian royalty or something. Google it. Mary Lucas trust or something.
on July 18,2013 | 01:01PM
Opelu wrote:
I think its the Lucus, Spielman, Thompson, Cassidy, Pflueger's of Niu Valley landowner fame
on July 18,2013 | 02:55PM
honopic wrote:
"Oe aomwrhinf" allie? Great research. Of course, facts have never been your strong suit. Sierra Tango Foxtrot Uniform.
on July 18,2013 | 10:28PM
kailua000 wrote:
he has to pay $350k ...does he not have to pay anything at all to the victims families? $350k is nothing to him. Of course he would take that over 20 years in jail. I sure hope the families are suing and not waiting for the state to make things right because he has his hands in a lot of pockets and nothing is going to happen to him.
on July 18,2013 | 12:46PM
allie wrote:
yup..what an utter disgrace
on July 18,2013 | 01:02PM
honopic wrote:
At last! Something you DO know about. Utter disgraces. Sierra Tango Foxtrot Uniform.
on July 18,2013 | 10:29PM
tiki886 wrote:
No, I think a civil trail for financial liability will be next just like in OJ's trial, thee is a criminal and civil trial.
on July 18,2013 | 02:53PM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
I'm not sure he has to pay that cash. The business entity was found guilty, it has to pay the fine from what ever resources it has. I don't know if Mr. Pfleuger has any personal liability on this one.
on July 18,2013 | 03:04PM
islandmom wrote:
This is just so sad and a total insult to the seven people who died and their loved ones who remain. We all know that this man deserves to go to prison. Is justice served in this case? Is the system that different if you are rich?
on July 18,2013 | 12:47PM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
"Pflueger now faces up to five years in prison, but the state agreed to recommend probation."

Ah to be rich and politically plugged in... Laws and jail are for the little people.

on July 18,2013 | 12:48PM
allie wrote:
yup..big rich Hawaiian family. Money talks in the Nei
on July 18,2013 | 01:02PM
loquaciousone wrote:
yup. during the battle of Nu'uanu Jimmy's great grandfather stood shoulder to shoulder with King Tamehameha and threw the soldiers of Kalanikupule off the Pali
on July 18,2013 | 01:44PM
allie wrote:
just like he threw those poor Kauai natives to their death.
on July 18,2013 | 02:35PM
honopic wrote:
So do you, unfortuantely. And talks and talks and talks and talks. Sierra Tango Foxtrot Uniform.
on July 18,2013 | 10:30PM
tiki886 wrote:
Yep, he deserved to die in jail.
on July 18,2013 | 02:54PM
zelda123 wrote:
If you ever wanted to take a human life in Hawaii it will cost you 50,000 in Hawaii, and not a day in jail
on July 18,2013 | 12:53PM
NotNasti wrote:
Pflueger should have gone to trial. Jury would not have convicted him of manslaughter. The families downstream built their homes too close to the stream in violation of the zoning requirements. He was negligent, but not reckless, which is the state of mind required for manslaughter.
on July 18,2013 | 01:10PM
allie wrote:
on July 18,2013 | 02:36PM
tiki886 wrote:
What?! How could the "families" build a home in violation of zoning requirements? The Lender and the Escrow & Title company would have been on the hook for millions in liabilities for that to happen unless those families paid cash to evade the requirements of a lender and the requirements of title insurance.
on July 18,2013 | 03:03PM
haolecrab wrote:
This was a tragedy. Who's to blame and be held accountable? Start with it was a natural disaster. 40 days/nights of torential rain? It was a flood that could not be contained. Is that the State's/Kauai County's fault? And yes: Those "homes" were perched on the rocks, on the river. I stayed in one about 15 years ago. It was a "bed and breakfast" that I doubt ever had a valid building permit, let alone a mortrgage! Mr. Pflueger may have been negligent, along with many other parties. Just because he is very high profile, that doesn't change the judicial process.
on July 18,2013 | 06:42PM
Kauai_Boy wrote:
Haolecrab, you too have bought into the lies spread by the Pflueger defense team. Do you not agree that it is both negligent and reckless to fill in the emergency spillway of a dam you control so that waters levels in the containment area rise and your "lakefront' homesite values and recreational opportunities are enhanced? Just because he is very high profile, very rich, and very powerful should not change the judicial process, but it has. Anyone else would have behind bars years ago. Write to Judge Valenciano today about imposing a fair sentence!
on July 19,2013 | 06:09AM
Kauai_Boy wrote:
You have bought into the lies spread by the Pflueger defense team. Do you not agree that it is both negligent and reckless to fill in the emergency spillway of a dam you control so that waters levels in the containment area rise and your "lakefront' homesite values and recreational opportunities are enhanced? Write to Judge Valenciano today about imposing a fair sentence!
on July 19,2013 | 05:57AM
loquaciousone wrote:
You see this tactic from high powered defense lawyers and defendants that have the money to delay delay delay. By now the lawyers in the State Attorney General's office that started the case are probably no longer handling the case. Thus the sweetheart plea deal.
on July 18,2013 | 01:17PM
Anonymous wrote:
Another ridiculous comment by our Dakota transplant.
on July 18,2013 | 01:26PM
Opelu wrote:
Believe me, this does not mean he will sleep well or at all in the dark of the night. Disappointing outcome
on July 18,2013 | 02:31PM
McGarret wrote:
Auwe! It is shameful that Pflueger the baby-killer is still a free man.
on July 18,2013 | 02:59PM
willman wrote:
This plea agreement is shameful. Our prosecutors gave him a sweetheart deal. He should pay millions in civil damages. Giving him probation is a joke.
on July 18,2013 | 03:06PM
ryan02 wrote:
The federal proecutors also gave the family a sweet deal in the tax case. They let the son have complete immunity in exchange for his testimony against the father, knowing that the father was not likely to be convicted and even if he was, was not going to see any jail time because of his age. So the whole family walked away free.
on July 18,2013 | 03:45PM
mijlive wrote:
easy-peasy do not do any business with the family. let those little thoughts, the ones in the back of your mind- you know ,the ones that tell you right from wrong get to the forefront of how you conduct your life.you will sleep better and maybe get up on your hind legs against our elected oppressors.
on July 18,2013 | 05:34PM
false wrote:
Some how we all knew the outcome of this case.
on July 18,2013 | 03:52PM
SY808 wrote:
Slap ---> Wrist
on July 18,2013 | 04:01PM
mochiko wrote:
I don't see any justice here for the families that suffered. I am saddened by this verdict.
on July 18,2013 | 04:50PM
GeoDiva wrote:
Ugh! He got off with a slap on the wrist!
on July 18,2013 | 05:57PM
64hoo wrote:
the state got off with negligence.
on July 18,2013 | 08:51PM
squidman22 wrote:
This guy is smiling when people are dead because of his negligence? Unbelievable! I really wanted to write something more colorful but it would have been censored for sure. He's got some explaining to do when he meets his maker. Smiling....I no can!
on July 18,2013 | 06:21PM
64hoo wrote:
the state of Hawaii got away with this one, as I understand it he bought the land from the state of hawaii so the state was responsible for not securing those dams and fixing them before selling the land to him. so to me if that's the case the state is at fault.
on July 18,2013 | 07:42PM
64hoo wrote:
also as I see it the state of Hawaii used him as a scape goat
on July 18,2013 | 07:46PM
Kauai_Boy wrote:
You understand incorrectly, as usual. Pflueger bought the KaLoko dam property from C Brewer corporation, and proceeded to illegally grad the land around it and filled in the emergency spillway of the dam he controlled so the water level in the containment area rose and his "lakefront' homesite values and recreational opportunities were enhanced. Write to Judge Valenciano today about imposing a fair sentence!
on July 19,2013 | 06:02AM
64hoo wrote:
no the state is smiling and acting smug because they found a scape goat
on July 18,2013 | 08:52PM
Makapuu4 wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on July 18,2013 | 08:33PM
64hoo wrote:
jail the state and the DLNR they were responsible for anything to do with water and these dams also every 5 to 10 years they always get that storm that floods the area those people that live down there built there little adobe shacks on that part of the land. so its there fault also for putting there shacks in an unsafe place that's why i blame the state for this tragedy, and use Pflueger as a scape goat.
on July 18,2013 | 08:47PM
Kauai_Boy wrote:
64hoo- You have bought into the lies spread by the Pflueger defense team. A half billion gallons of water were released by the breach and scoured an entire valley. Fully permitted homes NOT in the flood zone were damaged or destroyed. Had the breach occurred 3 hours later, there would have been an entirely different set of victims, including people driving on the highway which was destroyed and anyone remotely near the Wailapa Stream. Do you not agree that it is both negligent and reckless to fill in the emergency spillway of a dam you control so that waters levels in the containment area rise and your "lakefront' homesite values and recreational opportunities are enhanced? Write to Judge Valenciano today about imposing a fair sentence!
on July 19,2013 | 06:15AM
whs1966 wrote:
So what does 5 years probation mean? Is he in violation of his probation if he causes an accident that kills seven more people? Seven years after the dam broke the case never goes to trial. I suppose a key issue is the state's culpability, which, of course, creates a conflict of interest since the state was prosecuting him. I hope the civil trial cleans him out.
on July 18,2013 | 08:54PM
64hoo wrote:
and I hope he sues the state and give the money to the people if they try to sue him so go after the state its there fault for what happened.
on July 18,2013 | 09:10PM
Makapuu4 wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on July 18,2013 | 09:11PM
64hoo wrote:
I did already did. and are taxes are going up next year when the state has to pay for this settlement
on July 18,2013 | 09:28PM
Kauai_Boy wrote:
Other than 64hoo, who defends Pflueger in the face of reason, it seems just about unanimous from reading all your comments...Pflueger appears to be getting away with murder. But wait! Judge Valenciano is not bound by the tenets of a plea bargain agreement between the lame AGs office and Pflueger's well-paid legal defense team. He can take into account the written testimony of anyone who has an interest in this travesty of justice, and especially those who are aware of Pflueger's sordid history of arrogance and lawbreaking. For a convicted felon (look up his actions at Pilaa) who is convicted of yet another felony to be offered probation is more than unfair; it is a slap in the face of Hawaii residents and those whose have been damaged or destroyed by this monster. He deserves jail time and if he manages to avoid it, it is a huge signal to others in positions of wealth, power, and control that they are immune from any real consequences for their actions, even if those actions result in 7 deaths. Write to Judge Valenciano today about imposing a fair sentence! I am, and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same.
on July 19,2013 | 06:25AM
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