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Victims Sue Reservoir Owner Over Kauai Disaster

Attorneys Say Pflueger's Actions Responsible For Dam Breach

POSTED: 9:55 pm HST June 29, 2006
UPDATED: 8:26 am HST June 30, 2006

News Photo HONOLULU -- The families of the victims of the Kauai dam disaster filed lawsuits against landowner James Pflueger for destruction of life and property.

Lawyers representing the families of eight victims, including an unborn baby and 32 property owners, said blame for the Kaloko Reservoir disaster rests almost entirely on Pflueger.

Exactly what caused the Kaloko Reservoir to fail has not been determined. The state is still investigating.

In addition to the seven people and an unborn baby who died, there was massive property damage that insurance and the government is not paying for.

"And so the residents are growing frustrated each and every day that this massive mess is not being cleaned up," attorney Teresa Tico said.

A team of lawyers sued Pflueger and the Mary Lucas Trust, but they said Pflueger is to blame because illegal grading work he did around the reservoir without permits several years ago led to its failure. They said he knew the reservoir was leaking, but still resisted the state's efforts to inspect it.

"This is all part of a continuing course of conduct that we believe is directly related to the breach at Kaloko," attorney Rick Fried said.

The attorneys would not estimate the amount of possible damages. The combination of loss of life and property damage could make the case Hawaii's most expensive lawsuit ever.

"Obviously this is one of the significant losses in the state's history. The way this occurred was literally like a tsunami occurring," Fried said.

The lawyers said they have photos and witnesses to show Pflueger blocked a spillway for excess water even though he was warned not to. They also said that he knew the dam was leaking three months before it failed, identifying a small pond as "water coming from seepage from Kaloko Reservoir."

"He testified he was aware that there was seepage through the Kaloko Dam and that is a very major problem according to our experts," Fried said.

Pflueger's supporters said he relied on others to keep track of the dam and that the state failed to inspect it even when it investigated illegal grading and stream diversion.

The victims' lawyers said Pflueger was in control, resisted inspection and his employees said he treated it like a private recreational lake.

"The employee acknowledged that he would take Mr. Pflueger's Sea Doos, which are Jet Skis, up to Kaloko and blast around," Tico said.

Pflueger's attorney William McCorriston issued a statement said that it is too early to blame anyone. He said his client is cooperating with the state's investigation.

McCorriston also said that the state knew about problems with the reservoir for years and did not share that information. He said that there is also no relation between the blocked spillway and the dam breach.

The victims' lawyers have not filed lawsuits against the state in the case. State law doesn't allow for lawsuits against it for failing to regulate dams.

The lawyers could also benefit from information that the state's investigators turn up in its probe of the deadly dam breach.