Local papers report that Donald Vidrine, the Well Site Leader on the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the blowout, died of cancer and heart disease Saturday at his home in Baton Rouge. He was 69.
Vidrine was clearly a broken man after the incident and the outrageous prosecution of him and Robert Kaluza for first seaman’s manslaughter, then when that wouldn’t stick ordinary manslaughter, then when that was shown to be ridiculous misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act. Don pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 months probation. Kaluza fought the charge and was acquitted. The jury didn’t even stick around to get their free dinner. In the Kaluza trial it came out that the senior BP engineer was not even logged in to BP’s network (he was booking a vacation ticket) when Vidrine called him from the rig, presumably to ask about the pressure anomalies and mud loss prior to the first negative test.
Here’s what my friend Lillian Espinoza-Gala said in an interview:
Vidrine was later vilified in a 2016 movie version of the Deepwater Horizon in which he was portrayed by actor John Malkovich. In the movie, Vidrine is depicted as botching a pressure test that should have warned of imminent disaster. Later reports, including those from the HoustonChronicle.com, said it was Vidrine’s superiors in Houston who made the decisions to push ahead with the rig work.
Lillian Espinoza-Gala, an academic researcher from Lafayette who studies and writes about offshore safety, said the movie portrayal was “completely inaccurate” about Vidrine’s role.
“Everyone I talked with who worked with Donald said he was the most safety-conscious, risk-averse man, extremely conservative,” said Espinoza-Gala, who was inducted into the Offshore Energy Center Hall of Fame in 2016.
She said Vidrine’s health declined almost immediately after the blowout. He suffered from heart problems and later kidney cancer.
“The engineers who worked with him said he would never have had the heart attack if not for the blowout,” she said.
RIP, Don. You were badly served by many, and deserved better.