Disposal company found not guilty in deadly fireworks explosion in Waikele


More than six years after a massive fireworks explosion in a Waikele bunker claimed five lives, the disposal company that employed the victims and its owner were found not guilty of criminal wrongdoing.

At a press conference the day after the verdict, Charles Donaldson said he was relieved and emotional following the outcome of the trial.

Donaldson Enterprises Inc. was indicted over allegations of mishandling seized fireworks that led to a deadly explosion in a bunker on April 8, 2011. Donaldson and a company executive were accused of treating hazardous waste without a permit.

“I’m just relieved and blessed that everybody came and helped, and we had a positive outcome,” Donaldson said. “Honestly, I wasn’t able to share my emotions because of all these things that we were going through and yesterday, finally, I was able to get it out. It was the first time.”

Defense attorneys told us this was a tragedy that was the result of a workplace accident, not criminal conduct.

“Obviously we are relieved by the verdict today, however we keep in mind always that this was an unspeakable tragedy. Our hearts go out to the five families,” said attorney Thomas Otake, who represented Donaldson.

Bryan Cabalce, Robert Kevin Freeman, Justin Kelii, Robert Leahey, and Neil Sprankle died in the blast.

“Our position all along was that this prosecution lacked integrity, and it was an exercise in trying to shift blame away from governmental agencies that dropped the ball themselves throughout this process, and it was an exercise in taking facts and trying to shove them into offenses that just did not apply, and that’s why it resulted in an epic failure on the part of the prosecution,” Otake said.

“I think it’s very clear that DEI was a very good, small Hawaii company that did a lot of tough jobs,” said Randall Hironaka, who represented the company. “They took on a lot of tough jobs that nobody else wanted to do. We are certainly glad that this jury saw that there was no criminal conduct of any nature on their part. We certainly agree with that decision, and we are very, very grateful for their verdict.”

Juror Paullet Campbell explained what led them to their final decision: “Mainly, it was just a technicalities of the wording that they used for the prosecution.”

There are still pending civil cases. “With this now done, the families can pursue their lawsuits, and our lawsuits can move forward in the civil justice system, where this should have always been handled anyway,” Otake said.

We reached out to the prosecution for comment but have yet to hear back.

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