EDITOR’ NOTE: This was the statement made by Bruce Fehring in court Wednesday, Oct. 15, during the sentencing of retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger. Bruce lost his daughter Aurora, son in law Alan and 2- year-old grandson Rowan in the Ka Loko dam breach on March 14, 2006. Pflueger was sentenced to 7 months in prison on a reckless endangerment charge for causing the deaths of Aurora, Alan, Rowan and four others. Pflueger did not apologize but rather blamed the victims and many others for the breach of his dam. Pflueger, 88, has already begun serving time in prison on the island of Kauai. He was taken into custody immediately.
“Thank you, Judge Valenciano, for the chance to address the court regarding the matter at hand. I speak for those who were killed when the Ka Loko dam overtopped and subsequently breached on March 14, 2006, eight and a half long years ago.
“I speak for all those who have been affected in so many ways by that terrible event. I speak for my daughter, my son-in-law, my grandson, and the 4 others who lost their lives. I speak for my family, for our community, and for myself.
“The matter at hand—charges brought against a man who controls land around a massive reservoir high up in the hills and who is said to have, during the period of time when Maryann Kusaka was mayor of Kauai, selfishly and dangerously, and without regard or consideration for what should have been obvious to any normal person, filled in the dam’s emergency spillway so that the water level rose to the brim of the reservoir in order to enhance both his personal recreational opportunities and the value of his planned home sites around the reservoir.
“After investigations and actions by then-State Attorney General Mark Bennett, the Defendant was successfully indicted nearly 6 years ago by a Grand Jury on 7 felony counts of manslaughter and 1 felony count of reckless endangering. Subsequently, a change in the State Administration resulted in changes in the Department of the State Attorney General and the Hawaii Prosecuting Attorney Office, and a period of great delay commenced.
“The Defendant’s well-paid legal team has managed to manipulate the legal system for these many years, resulting in delay after delay, and a deal with the State that shifted the 7 felony counts of manslaughter to the Defendant’s corporation.
“Now, it should be noted that a corporation is NOT a person and cannot be jailed for its conduct. Further, the maximum fine a corporation can sustain in the State of Hawaii for one count of manslaughter is a paltry $50,000. Thus, 7 young people are swept to their deaths, and the State coffers are enriched by $350,000, while the Defendant, the accused, the man who has pled “no contest”, is left with one count of felony reckless endangering.
“It is my understanding that although the prosecution, and certainly the Defendant’s defense team, may be suggesting a period of probation, with no jail time, for the Defendant, you, Judge Valenciano, can impose the appropriate fines, jail time, and probation.
“In preparing for this day, I have concluded that I must speak from both my head and my heart, and that, further, I have a moral responsibility to ask for justice for the dead, for our community, which was traumatized, the land that was scarred, the waters which were muddied, the beaches and the reefs which were damaged.
“A wise man once said that real justice is a demonstration of the honor that a community, a society, shows itself. We must ask ourselves, are we honoring our community if we fail to achieve justice in this matter?
“The Defendant has written and sent me numerous letters in the years since the dam overtopped and breached, each one seeking to shift the blame for this disaster to anyone and everyone he can think of, instead of accepting any responsibility whatsoever himself. As recently as September 18, less than 1 month ago, I received a letter from him that states “Mr. Fehring – From what I read in print you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Then “You and Dyer were fine-Hitch too-until the break-then it was my fault. You and Dyer dumped your guilt on me-“ and “Remember- it was State water”.
The Defendant and his legal team have consistently, erroneously, and maliciously spread innuendo and falsehoods in their efforts to shift blame anywhere else they possibly can, while the Defendant consistently denies personal responsibility. THIS IS NOT PONO. And I will not be intimidated.
I have made copies of this letter for the court and have provided a copy to the probation officer assigned to the Defendant’s case. I have a copy for you, Judge Valenciano, and additional copies for those who require them.
It is obvious to me and to others who have had dealings with the Defendant, and it should be obvious to the court, that after eight and one-half years, the Defendant exhibits a complete and utter failure to accept personal responsibility for his actions. No acceptance of personal responsibility whatsoever. None. Whatever he or his defense team may say today contrary to, or in response to, this truth must be viewed through a filter of reason and reality. I personally do not believe the Defendant is capable of remorse.
The question that the Court might want to consider when sentencing the Defendant is: Whom exactly are we dealing with here? The answer is a bit complex. Aside from someone who has shown not one shred of remorse for his actions and who has consistently has sought to shift blame for the breach to others, he is a man of means who throughout his life has shown blatant disregard for the environment and for those who stand in the way of whatever he wants, or wants to do.
The grading-without-a-permit fiasco at Pilaa, which resulted in damage to the ocean reef, damage to a neighbor’s home which he viewed as a thorn in his side, and TEN felony convictions for the Defendant, is a prime example of the egregious nature of the Defendant’s character.
This is a man who has proven himself a self- centered, self-righteous egotist and a mean-spirited and vengeful bully. He has portrayed himself as a simple “yard man”, but has proven himself a danger to society and the environment and, regardless of his advanced age or alleged infirmities, will remain a danger to society and the environment any time both money and freedom are at his disposal, regardless of any conditions imposed by a probation officer.
Those people in Hawaii who are in positions of wealth and power know now that they can buy delay after delay when facing justice. That, in and of itself, is not right. However, if the Defendant in this case is granted a soft slap on the wrist, the message sent is that the rich and powerful are not as vulnerable as the average man on the street, and not subject to normal justice, even if they commit the same crime, or worse. No one should be above the equitable application of the law, including the Defendant.
For the sake of justice for the many victims, justice for the aina, and justice for the community, I earnestly ask you, Judge Valenciano, to impose a sentence of the maximum fine, maximum allowable jail time, and maximum period of probation for the felony reckless endangering charge to which the Defendant has pled “no contest” and for which he has demonstrated no remorse whatsoever, but only contempt for the victims and for the court.
Only by doing so will our society and the aina be protected from this dangerous and unremorseful man, and will some semblance of justice be served.
The deep love for our beautiful daughter Aurora, handsome son-in-law Alan, gregarious 2 year old grandson Rowan, who would be ten and a half years old today, and the other four gentle souls who lost their lives on that fateful day, is aching and undiminished. It would be wonderful to be able to see them, talk to them, hug them, work with them, and play with them. Those pleasures have been lost to us because of the careless, selfish, and dangerous actions of the Defendant.
Our loved ones are looking down at us. They are watching carefully over these proceedings.
Thank you again for allowing me to share my thoughts and my recommendations.