A Massey Energy subsidiary was fined $2.5 million last month after a federal judge accepted the company’s guilty plea to ten criminal charges for a fire that killed two West Virginia coal miners. U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver approved the plea deal by Aracoma Coal Co. despite a provision sparing Massey officials and the Richmond, Virginia, coal company from prosecution. The agreement also required Aracoma to pay a $1.7 million fine for civil violations found by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The charges arise out of a January 19, 2006, fire at Aracoma’s Alma No. 1 mine located about 60 miles from Charleston in West Virginia’s southern coalfields. Aracoma pleaded guilty to violating several federal safety requirements.
Miners Don Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield got lost when thick smoke entered what was supposed to be a sealed escape route. While other crewmembers escaped through a secondary tunnel, Bragg and Hatfield got separated and died. Government investigators later faulted Aracoma for removing two air-control walls that allowed smoke into the escape tunnel. Separate state and federal investigations concluded an overheated conveyer belt caused the fire. The Aracoma fire – along with methane gas explosions that killed 12 men at the Sago Mine in West Virginia and five at the Kentucky Darby mine in eastern Kentucky in 2006 – prompted sweeping changes to federal and state coal mine safety laws.
U.S. Attorney Charles Miller said the “evidence simply did not support a criminal prosecution of Massey or its officers.” He added that the violations were “limited to Aracoma.” The investigation continues. Aracoma foreman David R. Runyon pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to conduct safety drills at the mine. His sentencing is scheduled for July 9th. Bruce Stanley, the lawyer who represents the two widows, asked Judge Copenhaver to reject the plea deal, saying it protects Massey and Chief Executive Don Blankenship. Massey, the nation’s fourth-largest coal producer by revenue, settled a separate lawsuit brought by the widows in November.
Source: Insurance Journal
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