- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - A retired car dealer was sentenced to seven months in prison and five years of probation for a dam breach in Hawaii that swept seven people to their deaths in 2006, bringing a sense of closure to families who lost loved ones in the disaster.

James Pflueger, 88, was sentenced Wednesday in Hawaii’s 5th Circuit Court on Kauai. He had been convicted of reckless endangerment. Pflueger was immediately taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies.

The seven people were swept away when the Ka Loko Dam on Pflueger’s property failed, sending hundreds of millions of gallons of water downstream. Prosecutors said the dam’s emergency spillway had been covered.

Bruce Fehring, who lost his daughter, son-in-law and 2-year-old grandson in the disaster, said his grief is aching and undiminished. He told the court Wednesday that he had a moral responsibility to ask for justice for the dead.

“There were no winners today, only losers,” Fehring said in an email. “However, in the sense that community is safer as a result of Mr. Pflueger’s incarceration, and can recover a sense of trust in the fairness of the court and our legal system, the community is the winner, if one must be named.”

Prosecutors had argued that the dam’s emergency spillway, which was designed to keep water from flowing over the dam, had been covered, but Pflueger repeatedly denied that he filled the spillway. An independent investigator concluded that the century-old dam’s failure was caused at least in part by the lack of a spillway.

State Attorney General David Louie was pleased that the state’s criminal proceedings against Pflueger reached conclusion, said Anne Lopez, special assistant to Louie.

“He feels like justice has been done, and today brings closure,” Lopez said.

Pflueger’s company, Pacific 808 Properties, was ordered to pay $1,000 for each of the deaths, for a total of $7,000, instead of the $350,000 that the company had previously agreed to pay as part of a plea deal, Lopez said.

The State Attorney General had agreed to drop seven manslaughter counts last year when Pflueger pleaded no contest. Each manslaughter count would have carried a sentence of 20 years in prison. Judge Randal G.B. Valenciano reduced the fines that were agreed to in the plea deal, but added the seven month prison term, Lopez said.

The company and Pflueger also were both ordered Wednesday to pay $735 for crime compensation.

In a separate case, Kauai County had agreed to pay $7.5 million in 2010 toward a settlement covering lawsuits filed by the victims’ families, and the state’s share was $1.5 million.

Attorneys for Pflueger did not return phone calls for comment.

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