BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU – The Ka Loko Dam breached eight years ago on March 14, 2006, killing 7 people and an unborn child when 370 million gallons of water and the debris it carried crashed 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.
Retired Auto Dealer Jimmy Pflueger was scheduled to be sentenced today in Kauai’s 5th Circuit Court for recklessly causing the deaths of these people when he reportedly illegally graded around his dam, covering its main safety feature, its spillway, leading to its breach.
However, Pflueger’s attorneys successfully negotiated yet another delay in the case, which has dragged on since November 2008 when Pflueger was first indicted by then Attorney General Mark Bennett on 7 counts of manslaughter and one count of reckless endangerment in the first degree.
Pflueger, listed in Hawaii Business magazine in 2007 as one of Hawaii’s wealthiest residents, has reportedly spent more than $46 million on his legal defense.
For this most recent delay, Pflueger’s attorneys claimed he must have foot surgery on April 14, in four days, and so is unable to appear in court.
Today’s court date was scheduled after Pflueger’s scheduled January sentencing was delayed when Pflueger’s also cited health problems.
The new sentencing date has now been moved to August 28 at 9 a.m.
“I am sorry that Mr. Pflueger is not feeling well enough to fly to Kauai for his sentencing hearing today. On the other hand, he must feel good that he is still receiving the best ‘justice’ that money can buy,” said Fehring. “Our justice system is broken. If it were anyone else, with money and influence, would not be postponed.”
The years of court delays, which Bruce Fehring calls “upsetting and outrageous,” are wearing on the Fehrings.
“Every time we have to prepare to go to court, we have to look at photos of the dam breach, we have to see the photos of the loved ones we lost and relive the tragedy. I go through a great deal of anxiety when I have to go to court. This whole process is not pleasant and it’s not fair,” Fehring said.
Fehring said since Pflueger’s surgery is not scheduled for four days from now, he should be able to appear in court today, or at least appear by video. Fehring also questions why the sentencing has been postponed for four months, saying it seems like an unreasonably long extension.
“The attorney general seems to be looking after the perpetrator and not the victims. Mr. Pflueger is receiving every possible protection and the attorney general is giving him everything he wants,” Fehring said.
The attorney general did not respond by press time to Hawaii Reporter’s inquiries as to the delays.
The Fehrings and other victims of the Ka Loko dam tragedy who lost loved ones or property, are also disturbed by the attorney general’s plea agreement with Pflueger.
Attorney General David Louie, who replaced Bennett when Gov. Neil Abercrombie was elected, facilitated a deal in July 2013 that allowed Pflueger to plead no contest to reckless endangerment in the first degree for causing the deaths of seven people.
Meanwhile Pflueger’s company, Pacific 808 Properties LP, was allowed to take responsibility for the seven manslaughter charges and will pay a fine of $50,000 for each person’s death. The money will go to the state, not the victims.
The attorney general also asked the judge to give Pflueger probation instead of jail time, even though he already has 10 felony convictions on his record for a separate pollution case involving illegal grading in 2001 at his nearby property on Pilaa Bay, Kauai.
The fact that the attorney general is pushing for probation instead of jail time is another issues that angers Fehring.
“Every day people are incarcerated for crimes that pale in comparison to what Pflueger did. This is an indictment of our legal system that he can avoid justice as long as he has,” Fehring said, adding he hopes Pflueger will be sentenced to at least a year in prison.