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Manager accepts plea deal in fatal Waikele bunker explosion case


    This photo, from the Honolulu Police Department, showed the immediate aftermath of the fireworks disposal explosion at a Waikele storage bunker on April 8, 2011.

One of two managers who was scheduled to go to trial next month on felony charges related to a fatal fireworks explosion in a former Navy munitions bunker in Waikele has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in U.S. District Court.

Five employees of Donaldson Enterprises died as a result of the April 8, 2011, explosion and fire.

Carlton Finley was project manager for Donaldson Enterprises. The company, Finley and Director of Operations Charles Donaldson are charged with conspiracy, aiding and abetting and treating hazardous waste improperly and without a state permit by having the workers dismantle fireworks in the bunker. They are also charged with illegally disposing fireworks at Schofield Barracks and lying about it to authorities. Trial is scheduled for next month.

As part of Friday’s plea agreement, however, Finley pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of improper storage of explosive material. He faces a maximum one-year jail term and $100,000 fine at sentencing in July, at which time the government will drop the other felony charges against him. The deal requires Finley to cooperate with the government, which may include testifying against Donaldson and Donaldson Enterprises.

Finley admitted that he had the workers cut open aerial fireworks that had been seized by the government then soak the fireworks in diesel. In a change in procedure, the workers later cut open the fireworks then poured the fireworks powder into cardboard boxes. Some of the powder ended up on the floor of the bunker.

“At the end of the day the powder was swept up and put into trash cans to be dealt with later,” Finley said.

He pleaded guilty to storing a metal hand truck and other metal tools, which can spark, in the bunker with bulk fireworks and large quantities of black powder kept in six uncovered drums lined with plastic bags.

Robert Kevin Freeman, Justin Joseph Kelii, Robert Leahey and Neil Benjamin Sprankle died in the 2011 explosion and fire. Bryan Cabalce died at the hospital. All of the men were dismantling fireworks in the bunker.

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