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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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BP supervisor on ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig dies at 69

BP supervisor on ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig dies at 69

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Donald Vidrine, one of two BP supervisors on the Deepwater Horizon when the drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, has died in Louisiana at age 69.

Robert Habans, an attorney who defended Vidrine against federal manslaughter charges in the deaths of 11 rig workers, said his former client died Saturday. An obituary posted online by Martin & Castille Funeral Home said Vidrine died at his Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home after battling cancer for three years.

The deadly rig explosion off Louisiana's coast unleashed the nation's worst offshore oil spill, with an estimated 134 million gallons of crude spewing into the Gulf over the course of nearly three months.

Vidrine and fellow rig supervisor Robert Kaluza were indicted in 2012 on manslaughter charges, but the case eventually fizzled after a judge threw out some of the manslaughter charges and prosecutors elected to drop the rest.

Vidrine pleaded guilty in December 2015 to a misdemeanor pollution charge and was sentenced to 10 months of probation. A jury acquitted Kaluza following a trial in which Vidrine testified as a government witness.

Justice Department prosecutors accused the two BP "well site leaders" of botching a key safety test and disregarding abnormally high pressure readings indicating signs of trouble ahead of BP's well blowout in April 2010.

Defense attorneys cast them as scapegoats. A series of investigations by industry experts and regulators blamed the deadly disaster on a complex web of mistakes by multiple companies and individuals.

A prosecutor who questioned Vidrine during Kaluza's trial asked him if he did something wrong on the night of the explosion.

"I probably didn't press hard enough," Vidrine testified, according to a transcript. "I mean, I thought I had, but I probably didn't press hard enough to get more information or questioned some of the information I got."

Kaluza offered his condolences to Vidrine's family in a statement released Monday by his own lawyer, Shaun Clarke.

"Don was a very experienced, knowledgeable and conscientious deepwater offshore drilling supervisor that passed away far too soon," Kaluza said.

Actors portrayed both men in "Deepwater Horizon," an action movie about the disaster starring Mark Wahlberg. John Malkovich portrayed Vidrine in the film, which opened last September.

The Justice Department launched a sweeping and costly criminal investigation after the rig explosion. The government secured a landmark criminal settlement with BP and record civil penalties against the London-based oil giant.

But none of BP's onshore engineers or top executives faced criminal charges. And the charges against four BP employees unraveled before skeptical jurors and judges, resulting in acquittals or plea bargains involving lesser crimes and no prison time.

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