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Man pleads no contest in 2006 dam breach in Hawaii that killed 7 people

A retired car dealer pleaded no contest Thursday in a dam breach in Hawaii that swept seven people to their deaths in 2006.

In exchange for the plea to reckless endangerment, state prosecutors agreed to drop seven manslaughter counts against James Pflueger, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported (http://ow.ly/n6KNn ).

The 87-year-old landowner faces up to five years in prison when he's sentenced Jan. 23. The state has agreed to recommend probation but prosecutors can argue he must serve up to a year in prison.

Each manslaughter count would have carried a sentence of 20 years in prison.

Pflueger's attorneys and prosecutors declined to comment.

The victims were killed after the century-old Ka Loko dam broke on Pflueger's property, sending hundreds of millions of gallons of water downstream.

One of the accusations against Pflueger was that the dam's emergency spillway, designed to keep water from flowing over the dam, had been covered. He has repeatedly denied that he had the spillway filled. An independent investigator concluded the lack of a spillway caused or contributed to the failure.

The case has seen lengthy delays since he was indicted in 2008, but prosecutors had been preparing to take the case to trial after Pflueger rejected the deal in April.

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.

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com

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