BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – KILAUEA, KAUAI – Just hours before Jimmy Pflueger is sentenced on a “Reckless Endangering” felony charge brought against him by the state after his Ka Loko Dam breached on March 14, 2006, killing 7 people, Hawaii Reporter has obtained an inflammatory letter Pflueger wrote last month to one of the victims.
(See the letter here: Pflueger Letter 9_17_14/)
The letter from the 88-year-old Pflueger sent September 17, 2014 to Bruce Fehring blames Fehring for the death of his own daughter Aurora Solveig Fehring, his son-in-law Alan Gareth Dingwall, and 2-year-old grandson Rowan Grey Makana Fehring-Dingwall.
Pflueger also puts responsibility on Fehring for the deaths of family friends Daniel Jay Arroyo and Christina Michelle McNees and their unborn child, Timothy Wendell Noonan, Jr., a family friend, and Carl Wayne Rotstein, their caretaker, all who were on Fehrings’ property when the breach hit just before dawn.
Pflueger makes these allegations against Fehring, and Fehring’s realtor Mike Dyer, and others, even though it was Pflueger who was indicted in November 2008 on 7 counts of manslaughter and one count of Reckless Endangering in the First Degree.
Then attorney general Mark Bennett said Pflueger knowingly covered the dam’s main safety feature, its spillway, which led to the breach in the early hours that Tuesday morning.
The breach unleashed an estimated 400 million gallons on the community sleeping peacefully below.
Witnesses who lived to tell about that fateful day describe the sound of the rushing 30 to 45 foot waves as if a 747 airplane was landing just near their home. Some neighbors rushed out in the rain and devastation to look for survivors. There were none.
After reportedly spending more than $46 million on his defense over the last 8 years, Pflueger agreed to a plea deal in July 2013 under a new attorney general, David Loui.
The plea deal allowed his company, Pacific 808 Properties, to accept responsibility for the 7 manslaughter charges.
The company would pay $50,000 for each person who died, and the money would go to the state.
Pflueger would plead “no contest” just to the Reckless Endangering charge.
The deal sent shock waves through the Kauai community.
Fehring said: “To have the company take responsibility for the manslaughter charges is ridiculous. Corporations cannot be put in prison – they are not people – and the $350,000 fine is most likely not a significant amount to Mr. Pflueger.”
Even though Pflueger agreed to the plea deal, in his letter to Fehring, he also blamed Tom Hitch for the breach. Hitch is the manager of Kilauea Irrigation Company, which distributed state water from the Ka Loko reservoir that Pflueger owns to area farmers.
Virtually no one was spared from blame for Ka Loko’s breach in Pflueger’s letter except himself.
He claimed the Public Utilities Commission, the state, the water system manager, the realtor, the victims and even the water itself, was some how responsible for the breach.
In all caps with some words underlined, Pflueger wrote: “From what I read in print you should be ashamed of yourself. (Mike) Dyer sells you property in a flood zone – you build and put your children and workers on the flood zone – you and Dyer were fine – (Tom) Hitch too – until the break. Then it was my fault. You and Dyer dumped your guilt on me.”
Pflueger as the dam’s owner has responsibility under Hawaii law to maintain it. He said he told the Public Utilities Commission there were problems with the dam on June 8, 2001, five years before the breach.
He then blames Hitch – the manager of the water system – for not fixing the dam. He also blames the state and the water.
“Remember it was state water that broke my dam,” Pflueger wrote.
The state attorney general alleged Pflueger’s illegal grading around the dam caused the breach, and several experts said the water overtopped the rim and caused the breach.
However, Pflueger tells Fehring that a surveyor, Dennis Esaki, proved water did not go over rim.
At the end of the scathing one-page letter, Pflueger invited Fehring to come to the dam that breached 8 years ago.
“I still want to invite you and state to go to Kaloko and look at water gates now,” Pflueger said.
Attorneys consulted about this case say judges typically expect those being sentenced to be accept personal responsibility, and they take the defendant’s remorse into consideration when deciding the length of a sentence.
On Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 8:30 a.m., Kauai’s Chief Judge Randal Valenciano will hear from Pflueger himself as well as the Fehrings and other victims, and decide whether Pflueger should be sentenced to probation, home detention or prison.