Retired auto dealer James Pflueger was scheduled to be in court Thursday, Aug. 28, to be sentenced in Kauai’s Fifth Circuit Court for recklessly causing the deaths of 7 people when his Ka Loko dam breached on March 14, 2006.
However, his attorneys successfully negotiated yet another delay in the case, which has dragged on since November 2008 when Pflueger was first indicted on 7 counts of manslaughter and one count of reckless endangerment in the first degree.
Pflueger was scheduled for sentencing last January and that was delayed until April. In April, the sentencing was delayed again to August 28. The sentencing is now scheduled for September 17 at 8:30 a.m. before Kauai’s Chief Judge Randal Valenciano.
Over the course of the last several months, Pflueger’s attorneys have claimed the 88-year-old has various health issues that prevent him from traveling.
Pflueger, who was accused of covering the dam’s main safety feature, its spillway, when he illegally graded around the dam, has reportedly spent more than $46 million on his legal defense.
The founder of Pflueger Honda, now known as Pacific Honda, was set to plead no contest to a reckless endangerment in the first degree Thursday.
Pflueger was charged with 7 counts of manslaughter as well, but through a plea negotiation, his company, Pacific 808 Properties LP, took responsibility for the deaths and paid a fine of $50,000 for each person’s death. The money goes to the state, not the victims’ families.
Bruce and Cyndee Fehring lost their daughter Aurora Solveig Fehring, son-in-law Alan Gareth Dingwall, and 2-year-old grandson, Rowan Grey Makana Fehring-Dingwall, before dawn, when the raging water filled with debris smashed into the their 6-acre property.
Christina Michelle McNees, who was 7 months pregnant, and Daniel Jay Arroyo, her fiancé, who she was set to marry just hours later; Timothy Wendell Noonan, Jr., a friend who Aurora invited to stay with them after he lost his home; and Wayne Carl Rotstein, the Fehring’s caretaker and business partner, were also staying on the Fehrings’ property and were killed.
Bruce Fehring has called the repeated delays “upsetting and outrageous.”
“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,” Bruce Fehring said in an April 2014 interview. Fehring could not be reached for comment this week.
This will be Pflueger’s second conviction if he is sentenced.
In November 2001, Amy and Rick Marvin and their children narrowly escaped from their home in Pilaa, which was surrounded with mud during a mud slide caused by James Pflueger’s illegal grading
In 2006, just 4 days before the Ka Loko Dam breach, Pflueger pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts related to his illegal grading at Pilaa, a 393-acre property he owns near Ka Loko.
The illegal grading, which left 100 acres of red dirt exposed, caused a catastrophic mudslide on November 26, 2001, destroying a rare coral reef and polluting a pristine bay at Pilaa.
A heavy rainstorm that night in November 2001 pushed 1,000 tons of mud and debris into the once sparkling ocean, causing more than $100 million damage to the 20-acres of the reef that was awaiting the same federal protection that Oahu’s Hanauma Bay enjoys.
The Marvin family, who lived on the edge of Pilaa Bay, was able to flee the mudslide in time to escape injury, but their homes and cars were swamped in mud.
After a joint investigation by the Kauai County, state Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pflueger was charged with 13 felony counts and pleaded guilty to 10 counts in 2006. He was fined $12 million in restitution and fees.
The EPA portion of the fine – $7.5 million – was the largest penalty against an individual polluter in U.S. history.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources also fined Pflueger’s company Pilaa 400 LLC, the listed property owner, $4 million for the impact Pflueger’s illegal grading had on conservation land.
Then State Attorney General Mark Bennett headed Pflueger’s prosecution in both the Pilaa pollution case and the Ka Loko manslaughter case, but was replaced as is customary when a new governor was elected in 2010.
It was the current attorney general, David Louie, who offered Pflueger a deal that some say let him walk away without consequences in the Ka Loko Dam criminal case.
Bruce Fehring said the attorney general seems to be looking out for the perpetrator and not the victims.