NEW ORLEANS -- While the nation focused on the $4 billion BP agreed to pay, and debated whether it was enough, Keith Jones, the father of one of the 11 men killed that day, found justice in the simple fact that BP admitted guilt.
“BP's admission that the company was responsible for the deaths of those 11 men is more important to me than the payment of the fine by them,” said Jones, whose son, Gordon Jones, 28, was a mud man on the rig.
He is believed to have died instantly when natural gas shot up to the rig floor a little before 10 p.m. on April 20, 2010.
Keith Jones has spent much of the last two years trying to change maritime law to protect the families of those killed at sea. He is an attorney in Baton Rouge and testified before Congress, urging them to hold the companies accountable and calling for changes to the Death on the High Seas Act and the Jones Act, 1920s-era laws that limit ship owners’ liability and prevent the families of crew members who die at sea from collecting significant damages.
He nearly succeeded, but Sen. James DeMint, R-S.C., blocked the legislation. Cruise line companies lobbied hard against any changes to the law.
The two top BP men on the rig, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, were also charged Thursday with manslaughter. The government alleges that they misinterpreted the results of the negative pressure test, where the well is closed in and the crew measures pressure on the drilling equipment running down into the hole.
The well head was a full mile below the surface, where the rig was floating. And the well went down another three miles into the bedrock, where pockets of natural gas and oil threatened to seep into the well to form a dangerous cocktail. The negative pressure test was the key final check of the well’s structural integrity before the crew began removing the protective drilling mud that Gordon Jones had mixed and delivered.
While attorneys for Kaluza and Vidrine argued that they had been made scapegoats, Keith Jones said he felt the charges against them were appropriate.
“They were the company men,” he said. “And both of them committed the same negligent acts as regards the negative pressure test.”
But, as Kaluza and Vidrine’s attorneys also argued Thursday, Jones said he believes fault goes beyond those two men – to those responsible for a series of fateful missteps that doomed the rig.
“Do I think that Kaluza and Vidrine are the only people who did anything wrong? No,” Jones said. “I think there are a number of people employed by BP, some employed by other companies who committed acts that led to this blowout."
Asked if the settlement and charges bring a sense of closure, Jones made it clear that the day was significant, but his quest for the full truth of what happened to his son is not over.
“I feel more like the page has been turned,” he said. “This isn't over for me or any of the family members who lost a man on that rig, but I did wonder what was to become of the criminal investigation because we were in the dark.”
Tonight, a father can stop wondering -- at least until the trial begins.