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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pflueger’s manslaughter charges upheld

By Diana Leone
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Landowner and retired O‘ahu auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger spoke with one of his attorneys yesterday before the hearing on Kaua‘i.

DIANA LEONE | The Honolulu Advertiser

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LIHU'E, Kaua'i — Landowner Jimmy Pflueger still faces seven manslaughter charges in connection with the March 14, 2006, Kaloko Dam breach that killed seven people on Kaua'i's north shore, after a judge refused to dismiss the charges yesterday.

Pflueger's attorneys said they will appeal the decision by Circuit Court Judge Randal Valenciano, 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 Kaua'i land that includes Kaloko Dam and Reservoir) to which he has already pleaded guilty would be "double jeopardy."

State Attorney General Mark Bennett argued before the court yesterday 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 to grading his land without a county permit was in connection with illegal work done on the south side of the Kaloko Reservoir, Bennett said.

It was Pflueger's actions to cover the dam's spillway, on the north side of the reservoir, which led to the March 14, 2006, dam break and subsequent loss of lives and property damage, Bennett said.

Pflueger's attorneys have argued that 42 days of heavy rain and other factors contributed to the dam breach. They insisted again yesterday that covering of the concrete spillway — a standard dam safety feature — with dirt in 1997 or 1998 was not the cause of the breach.

Valenciano yesterday did dismiss one reckless endangering count against Pflueger, 83, in relation to the Kaloko Dam break.

Minkin claimed that as a small victory, saying Pflueger's legal team is "starting to knock out pieces" of the state's case against its client, a retired O'ahu auto dealer.

Valenciano yesterday 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 Kaua'i.

Pflueger, several of his companies, the state, Kaua'i County, Kilauea Irrigation Co. (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 reported total of $25 million.

The state's portion of the settlement is $1.5 million and Kaua'i County's portion is expected to be revealed soon. The amounts paid by the nongovernmental defendants and how much each plaintiff will receive are not expected to be made public.