James Pflueger enters plea deal in fatal dam break

James Pflueger
James Pflueger

LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Seven years after a fatal dam break on Kauai that killed seven people there is finally resolution on the criminal charges. Retired car dealer James Pflueger has been found guilty but for lesser charges.

It was part of a plea deal announced today in court. James Pflueger plead no contest to one felony count of reckless endangering in the first degree. That means he escapes the manslaughter charges which could have given the 87 year old up to 20 years in prison for each of the seven counts. Instead the lesser count will likely get him five years probation.

Also part of the deal his company Pacific 808 Properties plead no contest to the manslaughter charges and will have to pay a $50,000 fine for each of the seven counts for a total of $350,000.

In March, 2006 seven people were washed away to their deaths after the Ka Loko Dam failed. The dam is on Pflueger property and he was accused of altering the dam causing the failure.

"All I can say is it's finally time after a good deal of delay that he has admitted his guilt. I hope the court imposes the appropriate sentence for the crimes he's committed and I think it's good for our clients to have this behind them. It gives them some closure although there never really will be closure for this horrible situation," said Rick Fried, Victim's Attorney with Cronin Fried Sekiya Kekina & Fairbanks.

Bruce Fehring lost his daughter, son in law and two year old grandson in the tragedy and had mixed emotions after hearing the settlement.

"I'm very happy Mr. Pflueger after all these years has finally accepted responsibility for his actions," said Fehring, from Kauai. "It is not full closure. We'll never get over this. But it is certainly a step in the right direction. One would think Mr. Pflueger would sleep a little better at night having admitted to his guilt."

Fehring was surprised by the "generosity" of the State Attorney General's office to accept the lesser charge and let Pflueger "spend his probation in his very expensive house" and to let Pflueger's company take the fall for manslaughter.

"Corporations are not people. You can't put a corporation in jail. For a corporation to plead guilty on seven felony counts of manslaughter is odd enough but it is absolutely a travesty the maximum amount a corporation can be fined after being found guilty to a felony count of manslaughter when an individual loses their life is $50,000. Is that what we think a life is worth here in Hawaii? I argue otherwise. That particular law doesn't deserve to stay on the books," said Fehring.

He also says it sends the wrong message that the rich can beat the judicial system.

"It's a statement to people in positions of wealth and power that if you can delay consequences for more than seven years, if you can affect a plea bargain, it sends the message they are not quite as vulnerable as the average man on the street even if they commit the same crime," said Fehring.

The money will not go to victims. Instead the $350,000 will go to the state in order to help pay for dam inspections under the Hawaii Dam and Reservoir Safety Act of 2007, enacted after the tragic Ka Loko Dam breach.

Fehring and his attorneys say there was a civil lawsuit in the case however they say Pflueger has "not paid a dime" in damages other than some interest payments.

Calls to Pflueger's attorney were not returned.

"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," said David Louie, State Attorney General.

Pflueger is scheduled to be sentenced January 23. 2014.

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