Retired car dealer James Pflueger was released from the Kauai Community Correctional Center today and has been placed on home detention in his residence on Oahu.
Pflueger began serving a seven-month prison sentence in the Kauai jail Oct. 15 for his role in the deaths of seven people who were swept away by flood waters that had breached the Ko Loko dam.
Retired car dealer James Pflueger, 89, was convicted of killing seven people when a dam he had altered breached in a flood in 2006.
Courtesy: Malia Zimmerman/Hawaii Reporter
Prisons director Ted Sakai says he received a memo from the prisons Medical Care Branch Monday saying that the 89-year-old Pflueger, who is already in frail medical health with a serious medical condition, had developed a new medical condition “that might require urgent care.”
Sakai says the prison physician said none of Hawaii’s prisons facilities could appropriately care for Pflueger.
Pflueger’s case had been reviewed by the physician in the Kauai facility were he was incarcerated before it was sent for further review by the Health Care Branch physician and Health Care Branch administrator.
Sakai says the two physicians and the Health Care administrator recommended that Pflueger be granted medical release so he could be under the direct care of his own specialists and physicians on Oahu who are familiar with his health conditions.
Sakai says the medical administrator and the doctors did not believe that Pflueger could be appropriately cared for in the Kauai jail or in any other Hawaii prison.
The attorney general told Sakai he had the authority to release Pflueger.
Sakai says, “I knew this would be controversial. But I felt it was something I had to do.”
Sakai said he also was influenced to release Pflueger to home detention because of legal reasons. “If something does happen to him in prison when we have been warned of the serious decline in his health, you can imagine the size of the lawsuit against the state.”
State Sen. Will Espero, the chairman of the Senate’s Public Safety Committee, said of Pflueger’s release, “The perception of this is not good. The public will think he got special treatment, especially when other inmates are dying in prison and their families begging for them to come home on compassionate releases.”
Espero says he feels Pflueger should be kept in prison and another option would have been to let him serve out the seven months on weekends only.
No matter what the perception, Sakai says Pflueger’s release has nothing to do with who he is. He says he has released many other seriously ill prisoners for compassionate reasons.
Sakai says the main reasons inmates are not given compassionate releases is when they continue to pose a threat to society or they have no where to go.
Sakai says Pflueger does not pose a threat to society and he has a home on Oahu where his doctors and medical specialists have their offices.
While in home detention on Oahu, Pflueger will be monitored electronically through an ankle cuff and supervised by the Intake Service Center.
Sakai say he cannot discuss Pflueger’s exisiting medical condition and his new condition because of medical privacy reasons.
But Pflueger’s lawyer has said in the past his client has a heart condition.
Espero says he was told Pflueger’s new condition is a hernia.
While Pflueger is on home detention, he will only be allowed to leave his house for medical visits and to check in from time to time with the prisons’ Intake Service Center.
When Pflueger was sentenced to prison last month, Kauai Circuit Judge Randal G.B. Valenciano also sentenced the retired car dealer to five years probation.
Aerial photo of the Ka Loko Dam breach, 2006.
Christopher P. Becker/Wikimedia
Pflueger initially was indicted by a Kauai grand jury in 2008 for seven counts of manslaughter after the state attorney general said he caused the deaths of seven people by filling in the Ka Loko Dam spillway.
The spillway was supposed to prevent the dam from bursting by diverting its excess water, but after an unusual 40 days straight of rain, the dam burst.
As part of a later plea deal with state prosecutors, Pflueger pleaded no contest in July last year to a single count of reckless endangerment.
In return, Pflueger’s company, 808 Properties, took on the seven manslaughter charges.
Pflueger will probably spend the rest of his life outside of prison. Sakai says if Pflueger makes a full medical recovery, he would be put back behind bars but Sakai says recovery is unlikely for the aging convict.
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Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.