NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Prosecutors dropped manslaughter charges against two BP supervisors responsible for safety aboard the oil rig where an explosion killed 11 workers in 2010. One of them then pleaded guilty Wednesday to the only remaining charge: a misdemeanor count of violating the federal Clean Water Act.
Donald Vidrine appeared in court in New Orleans for the change-of-plea hearing. U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval agreed to prosecutors’ request to drop the manslaughter charges and accepted Vidrine’s plea.
Extensive testimony during civil cases was among factors that convinced prosecutors that the involuntary manslaughter charges could not legally stand up, U.S. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in an email.
Prosecutors’ court filing said dismissing the 11 manslaughter each man faced was “in the interests of justice.”
Kaluza is scheduled for trial Feb. 16 on the Clean Water Act charge.
Vidrine will be sentenced April 6. The judge did not indicate whether he will accept the recommended sentence – 10 months of probation, 100 hours of community service and $50,000 in restitution for work to fix damage from the oil spill.
The maximum sentence would be a year in prison and fines of $25,000 per day, plus restitution. If Duval rejects the proposed sentence, Vidrine can withdraw his guilty plea.
Vidrine’s attorney said he had no comment.
The Deepwater Horizon rig, which London-based BP PLC leased from Houston-based Transocean Ltd., was about 48 miles from the Louisiana coast at the time of the deadly blast in April 2010. Residents up and down the coast watched in horror as oil from the spill coated birds, fouled beaches and threatened delicate fishing areas.
This summer, the global energy giant agreed to a record settlement of nearly $20 billion to states affected by the spill in hopes of bringing an end to a legal drama that has cost the company billions. At the time, the company said the settlement would bring its full obligations to an estimated $53.8 billion.
But the settlement did not affect ongoing criminal cases such as those of Vidrine and Kaluza.
Prosecutors said Vidrine and Kaluza botched a key safety test and disregarded abnormally high pressure readings indicating signs of trouble ahead of the blowout of BP’s Macondo well. A statement made as part of Vidrine’s guilty plea acknowledged that this led to “underbalancing” the well, to the explosions and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, and to the spill and its damage.
Keith Jones, whose son Gordon Jones died in the rig explosion, attended Wednesday’s hearing with his other children. He said he was disappointed that prosecutors could not find any fault with the “company men” beyond misreading a test.
“As a result of this court proceeding today, no man will ever spend a moment behind bars for killing 11 men for reasons based entirely on greed,” Jones said.
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