BP spill manslaughter charges dropped, one guilty of environmental crime

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2015 1:21 PM

By Letitia Stein

(Reuters) - Manslaughter charges were dropped against two former BP well site managers involved in the deadly 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil drilling disaster on Wednesday, and one pleaded guilty to an environmental crime, federal prosecutors said.

Donald Vidrine pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act and "admitted to negligently causing the massive oil spill that resulted from the disaster," Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors, in a motion filed in the U.S. Eastern District of Louisiana, dropped the charges of involuntary manslaughter that he and another rig supervisor had faced for their role in the oil drilling disaster that killed 11 people.

"Circumstances surrounding the case have changed since it was originally charged," Carr said, "and after a careful review the department determined it can no longer meet the legal standard for instituting the involuntary manslaughter charges."

Vidrine and Robert Kaluza were the highest-ranking supervisors on board the Deepwater Horizon rig when disaster struck on April 20, 2010, resulting in millions of barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

They had faced 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter, but those charges were dismissed on the grounds that their duties did not qualify for the maritime crime in a court ruling upheld earlier this year by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Vidrine faces up to 10 months probation and financial penalties, according to the Justice Department spokesman.

Kaluza plans to fight the Clean Water Act violation to which Vidrine pleaded guilty in a case set to go to trial in February 2016, according to his attorney, Shaun Clarke.

"Bob didn't cause this tragedy," Clarke said. "He is eager and anxious to have his day in court."

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Richard Chang)