MALIA ZIMMERMAN – One of the saddest days in Kauai’s recent history occurred six years ago on March 14, 2006, and many people on the island are remembering the events they say changed the island forever.
After more than 40 days of rain, which drenched the island, the Ka Loko Reservoir on the island’s North Shore reached its maximum capacity. Just before dawn that Tuesday, its dam breached sending 370 million gallons of water crashing down on the peaceful community below.
Without warning or time to escape, the deadly force slammed into the Fehring family’s 6-acre property, sweeping Aurora Solveig Fehring, her husband Alan Gareth Dingwall, and their 2-year-old son, Rowan Grey Makana Fehring-Dingwall, from their beds to their death.
Christina Michelle McNees, who was 7 months pregnant, and Daniel Jay Arroyo, her fiancé who she was set to marry just hours later; Timothy Wendell Noonan, Jr., a friend of Aurora’s; and Wayne Rotstein, the Fehring’s caretaker and business partner, also were killed.
“The pain of that fateful morning will never leave the collective memory of our community,” said Amy Marvin, whose family helped in the rescue efforts that day, as did many other friends and neighbors.
All these years later, James Pflueger – the man the attorney general accused of causing the breach and charged with manslaughter -– is free, and his fate, at age 85, is still unknown.
Originally indicted in November 2008, Pflueger’s attorneys negotiated years of legal delays successfully pushing off his trial for seven counts of manslaughter.
Pflueger maintained his innocence, entered a plea of not guilty on January 7, 2009, and took his case all the way to the Hawaii Supreme Court to stop the criminal prosecution. But a Kauai grand jury, which heard from 20 witnesses and reviewed 207 exhibits and 607 pages of documentation, believed there was enough evidence to go to trial, and the Intermediate Court of Appeals and Hawaii Supreme Court denied his appeals. Pflueger’s new trial date is October 1, 2012.
Aurora’s family and the families of the other victims were devastated by the tragedy and the many years of litigation that followed. Criminal probes and prosecution of Pflueger prolonged their stress.
Recovery has been hindered by a civil lawsuit that dragged on for years, and was eventually settled, but Pflueger defaulted on his portion of the payment in September 2011.
Named one of Hawaii’s wealthiest people in a recent edition of Hawaii Business magazine, Pflueger, the founder of one of the most profitable car dealerships, Pflueger Auto, owes millions of dollars to the victims’ families and landowners. His attorneys asked for a two-year extension.
Cyndee and Bruce Fehring, who lost their oldest daughter, Aurora, their son-in-law Alan, and their grandson, Rowan, just days before Rowan turned two years old, went through many dark days in 2006 and in the years that followed. But they survived by focusing on family and friends and rebuilding. They planted trees, flowers and vegetables around their property as Aurora and their caretaker Wayne Rotein had done.
Aurora started a foundation just after the 2004 tsunami, which killed 180,000 people across Asia, and she traveled there to donate money and blankets to orphanages. In Aurora’s honor, Cyndee continued Aurora’s work.
The Fehrings founded the Aurora Foundation, and continue to raise money for children’s programs and facilities in Asia and Hawaii and travel to Asia to volunteer in orphanages.
Today, many of the Fehrings’ friends sent them via Facebook messages of support and recognized their pain, struggles and accomplishments.
Their postings sum up the loss many people feel since that tragic day six years ago:
“Thinking of Aurora, Alan and Rowan today and holding them in our hearts everyday.”
“Your family is a guiding light in our community.”
Cyndee spent the day with the children from the Aurora Foundation, something her friends also recognized on Facebook, saying she was fulfilling Aurora’s biggest dream.
Other people were impacted by this tragedy. Kilauea farmers who once relied on Ka Loko reservoir to irrigate their crops were forced to look elsewhere for water because the Department of Land and Natural Resources ordered the reservoir to cease operations. Many of the farmers, who produce 1 million servings of produce a year for residents and visitors, have spent several thousand dollars to build wells. Farmers purchased land in Kilauea because of the water rights agreement that gave them access to Ka Loko’s water, something they opted for because county water is too expensive.
While Kilauea farmers worry about getting enough water, others worry every time there are heavy rains on the island as there was just last week. Ka Loko Reservoir now has about a fourth of the water once in there, but Pflueger has refused to repair the dam and water occasionally flows over the breached area during consistent and substantial rains.
Residents who lost millions of dollars in property in the breach have, for the most part, rebuilt. And the millions of dollars in damage to the environment has slowly been repaired.
The river, once a shining line of water streaming from the mountain to the sea, was filled with debris to the point where in some places, it was just inches deep. Area residents successfully lobbied Hawaii’s congressional delegation for federal funds for the river clean up, and after years of bureaucratic tie ups, the river was finally dredged last year.
All of the people involved in this tragedy – whether they are victims or the alleged cause of it – will continue to deal with the aftermath, even after the October 2012 criminal trial, should it ever take place, is over.