Pflueger arraignment set for Tuesday
Videoconference possible if he again can’t travel to Kauai
LIHU’E, Kaua’i — Retired auto dealer James Pflueger is scheduled to appear in criminal court here at 9 a.m. Tuesday in connection with the 2006 Kaloko dam tragedy that killed seven people on Kaua’i's north shore.
Pflueger was indicted Nov. 21 by a Kaua’i grand jury on seven counts of manslaughter and one count of reckless endangering. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for each manslaughter charge.
Meanwhile, two civil lawsuits over the Kaloko dam break have been postponed. A wrongful death lawsuit set to begin Feb. 2 is now scheduled to start Sept. 7, and a property damage suit set for September has been moved to 2010.
State Attorney General Mark Bennett, who is prosecuting the criminal case, alleges that Pflueger filled the dam’s spillway with dirt, erasing its function as an emergency exit for water when the reservoir is too full.
An estimated 400 million gallons of water burst out of the dam and rushed downhill on March 14, 2006, after 42 days of rain. The rush of water killed seven people, damaged property and forced the closure of part of Kuhio Highway.
Pflueger has denied that he altered the dam or caused it to be altered. One of his attorneys, William McCorriston, has said Pflueger has been unfairly targeted, and that responsibility for the dam’s condition rests with the state agency that oversees dam safety and with the previous owner of the dam.
Pflueger’s arraignment on criminal charges was postponed from Dec. 2, after his attorneys said Pflueger, 82, was too ill to make the trip to Kaua’i for court.
If Pflueger’s doctor won’t allow him to travel this time, his attorneys will ask that he appear in Kaua’i court via videoconferencing, said David Minkin, another of his attorneys.
Pflueger underwent heart surgery in August and has had follow-up surgery because of complications.
He has been free on a $71,000 bond posted by Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman since his indictment.
The wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by families of those killed in the dam breach has been postponed to enable another round of mediation.
According to court documents, mediation attempts must conclude by the end of March and results reported to Judge Kathleen Watanabe. Attorneys on both sides would not comment on the mediation process, which is private.
A second civil lawsuit regarding property damage will go to trial in 2010, unless mediation resolves it.
Defendants in the two civil lawsuits include: Pflueger and his companies; an adjacent landowner, the Mary N. Lucas Trust; former dam owner C. Brewer and Co. and related companies; irrigation managers Kilauea Irrigation Co. and Thomas Hitch; the state of Hawai’i, whose Department of Land and Natural Resources has oversight of dam safety; and Kaua’i County, which has oversight of earthwork permits.
A 2007 investigative report by attorney and engineer Robert Godbey concluded that landowners, the state and the county all bear some of the blame for the disaster.