Family says BP lied about man’s cause of death in terrorist attack

By Craig Hlavaty
Houston Chronicle

The family of a Houston man killed in a terror attack on a BP plant in Algeria early last year claims the oil company lied about how the man died and that its Internet access policy contributed to his death.

According to the civil suit filed March 31, Frederick Martin Buttaccio did not die of a heart attack as reported by BP, but from a ring of explosives that were placed around his neck by a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaida.

The three-day siege on the Ain Amenas plant in Algeria ended Jan. 19, 2013, and killed 39 hostages from nine countries. The plant was jointly run by BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s state-owned oil company.

Three of eight Americans at the gas processing plant at the time of the attack were killed. Two of the dead were from the Houston area, Victor Lovelady and Buttaccio.

Buttaccio, 58, died Jan. 17, leaving behind two adult children and a wife of 35 years, who still resides in the Cinco Ranch area.

The Buttaccio family is seeking in excess of $1 million in damages from BP, and hopes to force the British company into creating more rigorous safety standards for employees in dangerous parts of the world. They are requesting a jury trial.

North Africa: Terrorist behind attack on BP Algeria plant quit al-Qaida

Frederick Buttaccio died in a terrorist attack at a natural gas complex in Algeria. The four-day standoff ended Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 after Algerian troops stormed the complex. The clash left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved. (AP Photo)
Frederick Buttaccio died in a terrorist attack at a natural gas complex in Algeria. (AP Photo)

The family’s lawyer, Fred Hagans said Buttaccio’s death could have been avoided had BP’s safety protocols been different. He said  BP employees working in places where there is a terrorist presence are told to keep their cellphones on them at all times to stay aware of threats and to get themselves out of harm’s way. When Buttaccio arrived on site his cellphone didn’t work.

“BP refused him access to the WiFi so he couldn’t use his cell phone. Since he was not a manager — not in management position — they said he couldn’t have access,” Hagans said.

When the plant came under siege, Hagans said, Buttaccio didn’t have any way to know what his escape routes were, or if it was safe to move from his position. He came out into the open and was kidnapped by terrorists. He was allowed to call his wife one last time, according to the lawsuit, and died the next day.

Hagans said BP told the family that Buttaccio died of a heart attack, when he had not. He said the company may have done this to lead the family to believe he didn’t suffer at the hands of the terrorists. The Buttaccio family was able to bury him in Houston.

“They were able to tell from his wounds that he was in an explosion,” said Hagans, adding that members of the family verified this at a closed-casket funeral.

“We do not have a copy of the autopsy yet,” Hagans said. “But there is no good reason for BP to say that (Buttaccio had a heart attack) and then to not correct that finding after the family received his body.”

Hagans said BP has never publicly corrected the cause of Buttaccio’s death, even when the physical evidence contradicted their statement.

On Friday, BP spokesman Jason Ryan said that the company is declining to comment on the lawsuit at this time.

Hagans said Buttaccio had already retired from a company that BP had purchased in 2010, but decided to stay on as a contractor, making a six-figure salary, working 30 days on and 30 days off training Algerians to work at the plant. He was saving up money for him and his wife to retire comfortably.

Security strategy: Algeria’s security forces to protect energy plants

The lawyer has mixed feelings about what the outcome of this case will be. He wants BP to treat the family reasonably and to make sure they make lasting changes in safety protocol so this doesn’t happen to other families.

“BP has been willing to settle cases, but this one is complicated,” says Hagans. “I would hope that they don’t put the family through anymore than is necessary.”

Hagans accuses BP of addressing safety “after the fact, but not being very proactive” ahead of time.

“They say, ‘We were terrible on security, but now we will do better,’ but that needs to be more than just words after the fact,” Hagans said.

In a statement, the family memorialized Buttaccio, and asked that BP do right by them.

“Fred Buttaccio was a wonderful husband, brother, father and son. He trusted BP to protect him. BP did not. Our family asked BP to address our concerns,” the statement reads. “We waited for more than a year. It was with great reluctance, but with firm resolve after a year of investigation, that we filed this lawsuit against BP.  We hope that by doing so, we can help other families avoid the needless and brutal death of a loved one.”