No consequences for key politician in Kauai dam breach tragedy

MaryAnn Kusaka
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MaryAnn Kusaka
Maryanne Kusaka

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – KILAUEA, KAUAI – Retired Auto Dealer Jimmy Pflueger was sentenced to 7 months in prison Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. He pleaded “no contest” to a Reckless Endangering charge filed against him by the state attorney in Nov. 2008 after his dam breached on March 14, 2006, killing 7 people.

The state attorney general said Pflueger knowingly covered the dam’s main safety feature, its spillway, and kept it covered despite multiple warnings that it was unsafe, causing the dam to over top and breach.


One person who did have a role in the dam breach, but has received little publicity, has walked away without consequences.

Maryanne Kusaka was the mayor of Kauai in 1997, the year Pflueger allegedly illegally graded around his dam and reservoir and covered the spillway.

Aurora Fehring Dingwall, Alan Dingwall and their son Rowan were killed in the dam breach on March 14, 2006, along with four other people and an unborn child.
Aurora Fehring Dingwall, Alan Dingwall and their son Rowan were killed in the dam breach on March 14, 2006, along with four other people and an unborn child.

Public records show Kauai County received an anonymous complaint about Pflueger’s extensive illegal grading around reservoir in 1997.

A county engineering inspector, John Buist Jr., who worked for Kusaka’s administration, checked the site from afar, cited Pflueger for a grading violation, and issued a notice to Pflueger to “stop work immediately.”

But Pflueger didn’t stop. Instead, the inspector was called into a meeting by Kusaka and told to stay away from Pflueger. Specifically, he was told to “stop all actions involving Mr. Pflueger.”

Hawaii Reporter obtained a copy of Buist’s internal memo – a document the county in 2006 told Hawaii Reporter did not exist – which detailed the meeting with Kusaka.

Pflueger told Hawaii Reporter in an exclusive follow up interview that he gave a large contribution to the mayor. He said that he handed Kusaka $9,000 in cash hoping he would get the harassing inspectors off his back.

After some prodding, Pflueger confirmed the contribution in a follow up interview with “ABC 20/20″’s Jim Avila saying he hid it in the names of eight of his employees, but he claimed there was no deal.

As Avila reported: “Pflueger confirmed the donation to “20/20” … “But Pflueger says he gave the mayor the money because he thought she needed help, and says there was no deal involved.”

James Pflueger with his attorneys in court Oct. 15, 2014
James Pflueger with his attorneys in court Oct. 15, 2014

According to state campaign law, Pflueger cannot donate more than $4,000 to Kusaka in an election cycle.

Kusaka did not report the contribution.

When confronted by both Hawaii Reporter and an ABC 20/20 crew in January 2007 on Kauai, Kusaka covered her face with a piece of paper and fled.

She told 20/20’s Avila that she would not talk about the case because it’s under investigation.

She did, however, respond to the $9,000 contribution allegation, Avila reports, telling him it was an ‘absolutely ludicrous’ allegation.

When asked again if Pflueger paid any political contributions, she said, “Absolutely not, not that I’m aware of,” Avila reports.

In follow up calls, Kusaka refused to answer questions about the dam breach or Pflueger’s statements and she retained a personal lawyer.

Kusaka did get called to testify before the Kauai Grand Jury in Nov. 2008.  It is highly presumed within Hawaii legal circles that she was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying against Pflueger.

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.





  1. Many folks are culpable. Mike Dyer, who says he told Pflueger about the spillway, and subsequently sold parcels along Wailapa Stream. MANY folks knew of the issue, but none other than Tom Hitch had responsibility to do anything, and so they didn't. Pflueger is a pompous guy, but others should be called out. Your 20/20 made Dyer look like a hero, he was NOT. JP's workers knew the spillway was filled in. A Rietow knew, but again Hitch knew and HAD the responsibility to act. Check out his deposition, he sent JP and email the day after the dam failed saying no ONE can say it was caused by the spillway being filled in. Hitch should join JP in jail.

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