Judge refuses to dismiss manslaughter charges in 2006 Kaloko Dam disaster
By Diana Leone
Advertiser Kauaçi Bureau
LIHUÇE, Kauaçi — Jimmy Pflueger still faces seven manslaughter charges in connection with the March 14, 2006, Kaloko Dam breach that killed seven people on Kauaçi’s north shore, after a judge refused to dismiss them today.
Pflueger’s attorneys said they will appeal Circuit Court Judge Randal Valenciano’s decision, which will likely delay Pflueger’s trial, currently set for mid-April.
Pflueger attorney David Minkin argued that to charge his client with manslaughter in connection with the same action (illegal grading on his Kauaçi land that includes Kaloko Dam and Reservoir) to which he has already pleaded guilty would be “double jeopardy.”
State Attorney General Mark Bennett’s winning argument in today’s hearing was that “the state cannot be precluded from prosecuting a 2006 manslaughter based on a 2003 illegal grading conviction.”
Charges in connection with the deaths of “seven innocent people” in the flood caused by the broken dam is an entirely different matter, Bennett said.
“Moving dirt around is not the charge Mr. Pflueger is being prosecuted for now,” Bennett said.
Pflueger’s guilty plea for moving dirt on his land without a county permit was regarding illegal work done on the south side of the Kaloko Reservoir, Bennett said.
It was Pflueger’s covering the dam’s spillway, on the north side of the reservoir, that led to the March 14, 2006, dam break and subsequent loss of lives and property damage, Bennett said.
Pflueger, several of his companies, the state, Kauaçi County, Kilauea Irrigation Company (which distributed water from the reservoir to downstream farmers), several former landowners and engineering firms all agreed in an Oct. 29 out-of-court settlement to pay a total of $25 million to about 60 wrongful death and property damage lawsuit plaintiffs, which include the families of those killed.
Valenciano did today dismiss one reckless endangering count against Pflueger in relation to the Kaloko Dam break.
Minkin claimed that as a small victory, saying Pflueger’s legal team is “chipping away” at the charges against their client, a retired Oçahu auto dealer.
Valenciano today also rejected attempts by Pflueger’s attorneys to have all his criminal charges dismissed on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence he may have committed a crime and to have the trial moved off Kauaçi.