HONOLULU – Court documents released Wednesday by the state attorney general’s office show a company owned by retired auto dealer James Pflueger has paid $350,000 to the state of Hawaii.
The money was part of a controversial plea deal that let’s Pflueger’s company, Pacific 808 Properties LP, and not Pflueger himself, take responsibility for 7 manslaughter charges.
In November 2008, Pflueger was charged with 7 counts of manslaughter and one count of reckless endangerment in the first degree for recklessly causing the deaths of 7 people when his Ka Loko dam breached on March 14, 2006. The breach sent 370 million gallons of water and debris it carried crashing into the community below.
Aurora Solveig Fehring, her husband Alan Gareth Dingwall, and their 2-year-old son, Rowan Grey Makana Fehring-Dingwall, were killed when they were swept from their beds to their death before dawn by what witnesses described as the “tsunami from the mountain.”
Christina Michelle McNees, who was 7 months pregnant, and Daniel Jay Arroyo, her fiancé who she was set to marry just hours later on the Fehring property; Timothy Wendell Noonan, Jr., a friend of Aurora’s; and Wayne Rotstein, the Fehring’s caretaker and business partner, also were killed.
Then attorney general Mark Bennett accused Pflueger in the 2008 indictment of illegally graded around his dam, covering its main safety feature, its spillway, leading to its breach.
But the plea deal secured in 2013 under David Louie, a different attorney general than originally charged Pflueger, his company paid a fine of $50,000 for each person killed.
The money goes to the state of Hawaii, not the victims’ families.
Pflueger still must be sentenced for the reckless endangerment charge on the island of Kauai, but he has been able to delay his sentencing twice, one in January and once in April, claiming he is too sick to show up in court and is unable to travel from Honolulu to Kauai.
A letter from Pflueger’s doctor, Donald E. Nicol MD, filed with the court, said Pflueger had both skin cancer on his leg and deep plantar ulcer on his foot that had to be removed.
While the leg surgery was successful, the surgery on the foot ulcer was scheduled for April 15, five days after Pflueger was scheduled to be sentenced on the reckless endangerment charge.
Pflueger’s doctor advised him not to travel for two to three months after the surgery, saying travel could lead to complications such as gangrene or losing part of his foot to amputation.
However, eight years of delays, the families impacted by the Ka Loko Dam breach want the criminal case brought to an end.
Bruce Fehring, who lost his daughter, son in law and 2-year-old grandson in the breach, said: “Our justice system is broken. If it were anyone else, with money and influence, would not be postponed.”
Ferhing questioned why Pflueger could not be sentenced as scheduled before the surgery, or by video, or sooner than 4 months from now.
Pflueger, founder of Pflueger Auto, which now goes by Pacific Auto, is among the richest people in Hawaii, according to a Hawaii Business Magazine article in 2007, which documented Pflueger’s assets at $71 million. Since the breach, Pflueger, 88, reportedly has spent $46 million on his defense.
The families of the victims also questioned why Pflueger’s company, and not him personally, can take responsibility for the breach, when it was Pflueger that allegedly illegally graded around the dam and covered the spillway.
Pflueger’s new sentencing date on the reckless endangerment count is August 28 on the island of Kauai.