In 1989, the tankerExxon Valdezran aground in Prince William Sound, triggering a disastrous oil spill, the worst in American history for the amount of spilled crude oil and staggering amounts of death to local wildlife.
Joseph Hazelwood, the captain of the vessel, was accused of being drunk and away from the bridge when the ship collided with the reef (he was acquitted of the charges of being intoxicated in 1990). He has always been vilified as being the culprit in the disaster. Hazelwood has reportedly died. He was 75. Here’s more from the Associated Press:
An Anchorage jury awarded nearly 33,000 plaintiffs affected by the Alaska spill $5 billion in punitive damages in 1994, but that amount was cut in half by other courts on appeals by Exxon. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court cut the punitive damages to $507.5 million.
Hazelwood, whom prosecutors accused of being drunk when the tanker grounded, was the only crew member criminally charged after the spill. He had left a third mate in control of the ship while he went below to do paperwork. Hazelwood was accused of one felony, criminal mischief, and three misdemeanors — reckless endangerment, operating a vessel while intoxicated and negligent discharge of oil.
During his 1990 Anchorage trial, witnesses reported he drank vodka at a Valdez bar before the ship sailed, but how much he drank and at what hour were in dispute. No witnesses described Hazelwood as appearing drunk, staggering or slurring his words. Crew members called him cool, calm and in command before and after the grounding, according to Associated Press coverage of the trial.
Some social media posts didn’t exactly offer RIP condolences to the disgraced Hazelwood’s loved ones: