Man accepts plea deal in deadly Hawaii dam breach

AP News
Posted: Jul 18, 2013 10:27 PM

LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) — A retired car dealer pleaded no contest Thursday to reckless endangering in a dam breach in Hawaii that swept seven people to their deaths in 2006.

State Attorney General spokeswoman Anne Lopez says that in exchange for James Pflueger's plea, state prosecutors agreed to drop seven manslaughter counts.

Lopez says the agreement calls for five years' probation when he's sentenced Jan. 23. At the sentencing, prosecutors can argue for additional conditions such as community service, a fine and up to a year imprisonment, Lopez said.

Pflueger's company, Pacific 808 Properties, pleaded no contest to seven counts of manslaughter. The company will pay a $350,000 fine that will go toward a dam inspection and safety program.

"I am satisfied that by entering into this plea agreement Pflueger has accepted responsibility for his part in this tragedy," Attorney General David Louie said in a statement. "It is my hope that the events of today can provide a degree of closure for the families and community affected by the Ka Loko dam breach."

He said he's pleased Hawaii will have an additional $350,000 to help prevent similar tragedies.

Each manslaughter count would have carried a sentence of 20 years in prison for the 87-year-old landowner, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Pflueger's attorneys couldn't be reached for comment.

The victims were killed after the century-old Ka Loko dam broke on Pflueger's property, sending hundreds of millions of gallons of water downstream.

One of the accusations against Pflueger was that the dam's emergency spillway, designed to keep water from flowing over the dam, had been covered. He has repeatedly denied that he had the spillway filled. An independent investigator concluded the lack of a spillway caused or contributed to the failure.

The case has seen lengthy delays since he was indicted in 2008, but prosecutors had been preparing to take the case to trial after Pflueger rejected the deal in April.

Kauai County in 2010 agreed to pay $7.5 million for its portion of a settlement covering lawsuits filed by the families of the victims. The state's share was $1.5 million.