LIHUE, Kauai — Retired Oahu auto dealer James Pflueger has rejected a plea deal in which he could have pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless endangering related to a fatal breach of a Kauai dam in 2006, a prosecutor said.
Pflueger, 87, now faces trial in September on seven counts of felony manslaughter and one count of reckless endangerment related to the breach of the Ka Loko dam that sent hundreds of millions of gallons of water downstream.
State prosecutors said Thursday the plea deal remained on the table.
Pflueger’s criminal case has been pending for more than four years after he was indicted by the Kauai grand jury in late 2008.
He appeared in 5th Circuit Court on Thursday in what was to be a change of plea hearing. Instead, Circuit Court Judge Randal Valenciano set a trial date for Sept. 16.
A manslaughter conviction carries a prison term of up to 20 years in prison. Reckless endangering carries a sentence ranging from probation to five years in prison.
Authorities said Pflueger tampered with an earthen dam that was on his 33-acre property under an easement. The Ka Loko Dam failed after a 40-day rain and a wall of water wiped out the Wailapa Road residential neighborhood in Kilauea.
Killed were Alan Gareth Dingwall, Daniel Jay Arroyo, Rowan Grey Makana Fehring-Dingwall, Aurora Solveig Fehring, Christina Michelle McNees, and her unborn baby, Timothy Wendell Noonan Jr. and Carl Wayne Rotstein.
Bruce Fehring, a plaintiff in a related civil case, attended the hearing on Thursday.
“We are sorry that the wheels of justice have moved as slowly as they have, but we’re happy that it appears that we’re moving forward at this point in time,” Fehring, who lost his daughter, son-in-law and grandson in the disaster, told the Garden Island.
William McCorriston, Pflueger’s attorney, said his client has paid a substantial amount but not all of a confidential civil settlement dating to 2009.
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.
The state, county and other landowners, including Pflueger, were named as defendants. Property owners who suffered damage when the dam failed were also parties in the lawsuit.
Pflueger was also fined $4 million for illegally grading a different piece of land in 2001 leading to a massive landslide that covered a beach and reef.