Pflueger indicted in Ka Loko dam breach


POSTED: Friday, November 21, 2008

LIHUE >> A special grand jury on Kauai indicted former auto dealer James Pflueger this morning on seven counts of manslaughter and one count of first-degree reckless endangerment in connection with the breach of the Ka Loko dam in March 2006 that killed seven people.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett said after the proceeding, “the indictment is an accusation. Mr. Pflueger, like any other criminal defendant, is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Seven Kauai residents died March 14, 2006, when an earthen dam at Ka Loko Reservoir breached after heavy rain, sending 1.6 million tons of water downstream through the property of Bruce Fehring.

The victims were Aurora Fehring; her husband, Alan Dingwall; their son, Rowan Fehring-Dingwall; and residents Daniel Arroyo, Christina McNees, Wayne Rotstein and Timothy Noonan.

Bennett said one of the relevant factors in the case against Pflueger, “has to do with covering of the spillway.”

Pflueger, 82, has repeatedly denied accusations that he filled the dam’s spillway. A spillway is an emergency feature used, like a spill basin on a sink, to keep water from flowing over the top of the dam.

As part of a 2006 settlement into numerous environmental violations at Pflueger’s properties on Kauai’s North Shore, Pflueger paid a fine for a grading violation at Ka Loko.

According to a report released last year by an independent investigator into the breach, it is likely that when the construction crews graded the hill on the far side of the reservoir from the dam, they used the excess fill to cover the spillway.

But Pflueger’s attorneys have disputed this claim and hired their own experts who say the dam breached because it was old.

On Tuesday, the grand jury heard testimony from University of Hawaii engineering professor Horst Brandes who was one of the first experts on the scene of the Ka Loko tragedy. He also helped the state gauge the stability of Ka Loko and the Morita Dam downstream after the breach.

A separate investigative grand jury convened in July called at least a dozen people to testify, including employees of auto dealer Pflueger, who owns Ka Loko Dam.

Pflueger's attorney William McCorriston put out a news release yesterday claiming that Pflueger did not own the dam and therefore should not be held responsible for its failure.

He also said the state should be liable because it failed to inspect the dam.

“;Despite its earlier accusations that the state never inspected the dam because  Mr. Pflueger didn't provide express permission for the state to enter the property, the state has recently, after more than two years, reluctantly produced a letter by Mr. Pflueger to the state in 1990 inviting the DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) to inspect the dam at any time,”; McCorriston said.

McCorriston added that “;the state of Hawaii is trying to create a scapegoat in Jimmy Pfleuger and by failing to take responsibility for its clear role in the dam failure.”;

Asked why it took this long to seek an indictment, Bennett said, “we wanted to make sure the investigation was thorough and complete.”

Pflueger was not called to testify before the grand jury.

Bennett said he would work with Pflueger’s attorneys regarding his surrender.

Star-Bulletin reporter Susan Essoyan contributed to this report.