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Firm resolves Waikele explosion suit with $1.5 million settlement


A federal judge approved a $1.5 million settlement Thursday between the families of five men who died in a 2011 fireworks explosion and fire at a Waikele storage bunker and the company that held the master lease to the Navy’s former munitions bunker complex.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard L Puglisi’s approval removes Ford Island Ventures from lawsuits filed by the families of the five men.

Other defendants, against whom the families’ claims remain include VSE Corp., which the families say had a contract with the federal government to transport, store and dispose of seized fireworks, and subcontractors Blanchard and Associates Inc. and Donaldson Enterprises Inc.

The five men who died in the explosion were employees of Donaldson Enterprises.

The lawsuits also names as defendants Hawaiian Island Development Co., HIDC Small Business Storage LLC, Hawaiian Island Commercial Ltd. and Hawaiian Island Homes Ltd. All four companies are owned by local real estate developer and investor Peter Savio.

The families claim that HIDC leased storage units from Ford Island Ventures and in turn sublet the unit where the explosion and fire occurred to Donaldson Enterprises.

Bryan Cabalce, Robert Kevin Freeman, Justin Joseph Kelii, Robert Leahey and Neil Benjamin Sprankle died April, 18, 2011 when fireworks in the Donaldson Enterprises rented storage unit ignited.

Donaldson Enterprises Inc., director of operations Charles Donaldson and project manager Carlton Finley are awaiting trial in U.S. District Court for conspiracy, aiding and abetting and treating hazardous waste improperly and without a state permit by having their workers dismantle fireworks in the rented bunker. They also face charges of illegally disposing of more seized fireworks at Schofield Barracks, and of lying to authorities.

Their trial is scheduled for July.

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