UPDATE: Memorial Event to Honor UBB Mine Disaster Victims

By: WSAZ News Staff, Amanda Barren, Dan Griffin Email
By: WSAZ News Staff, Amanda Barren, Dan Griffin Email
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U.S. Attorney Speaks Out About UBB Case


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- U.S. District Attorney Booth Goodwin said his office has not spoken with former Massey CEO Don Blankenship about the Upper Big Branch mining disaster that claimed 29 men's lives four years ago.


He said, however, that he will go wherever and to whomever the federal investigation may lead.


"This is an investigation like no other," Goodwin said. "We are working very hard, and we remain committed to seeing this investigation through."


Goodwin said his office approaches the investigation "in a very different way than other mine safety investigations have been approached."


He added that the investigation is extremely broad and could go in many conceivable directions.

UPDATE 4/2/14 @ 6:01 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Family and friends of the 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion gathered in front of Charleston's federal courthouse to demand justice Wednesday.

While it was originally meant to be a memorial, people there said a new documentary has turned it into a protest for their lost loved ones.

Family members said the deaths could have been avoided if Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, would've focused on safety instead of money and coal.

This all comes after Blankenship released a new documentary claiming his company wasn't responsible.

Tears, pictures and memories filled the sidewalk outside of the federal courthouse in Charleston.

"We're all missing someone very special," said Shereen Atkins, the mother of 25-year-old Jason Atkins, who died in the explosion.

For families there, the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, now four years ago, is as painful as ever.

"Josh was full of life, he lived life to the fullest, he was a good boy," said Pam Napper, a mother who lost her son in the explosion.

"There's not a day goes by I don't shed tears," Atkins said.

But the gathering isn't just to remember their loved ones.

"These 29 voices are gone and all that's left is us," said Kayla Blair.

It was also to protest Blankenship's new documentary.

In it, he said Massey Energy wasn't responsible for the disaster, instead blaming it on a natural gas explosion.

In 2009, that mine was hit with hundreds of citations for safety violations.

"To release it so close to the day these men's lives were taken, I want to know how he gets up in the morning and lives a daily life," Blair said.

"I just wanted to go to the mine Saturday, take my flowers, have my peace there and just remember that day," Napper said.

Now, these people said they want justice.

"He said the conditions were bad, in fact they had to move him from one mine to another a year before that," Atkins said.

They also want Don Blankenship to be held responsible.

"He's wrong, he's just wrong and he knows it," said Napper.

WSAZ.com is following up on the documentary and the criticism from the miner's families and friends. We are set to interview Blankenship about all of this Thursday morning.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.

UPDATE 4/2/14 @ 11:15 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Friends and families of victims of a West Virginia mine explosion, that happened four years ago, are meeting to remember their lost loved ones.

A gathering for those affected by the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster will take place Wednesday afternoon in front of the federal courthouse in Charleston.

Saturday is the four-year anniversary of the explosion that killed 29 miners.

According to the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial website, the event will run from noon to 3 p.m.

Massey Energy owned the mine at the time of the explosion. Former Massey CEO Don Blankenship released a documentary this week disputing that his company was at fault.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin says he was deceived into appearing in the film. He has demanded his interview be removed and the film be taken off the Internet.

We will have a crew at the rally.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.

UPDATE 4/1/14 @ 8:50 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., did not mince words Tuesday concerning his anger about a documentary he said he was "duped" into participating.

That documentary about the Upper Big Branch mining disaster, which killed 29 men in Raleigh County, W.Va., was posted Monday on former Massey CEO Don Blankenship's website. Blankenship maintained it's a way to get the truth out about what really happened.

Manchin was governor at the time of the disaster on April 5, 2010. Four years later, he said he still keeps in touch with the families affected by the disaster. He said he was stunned when his interview ended up in the documentary titled "Upper Big Branch, Never Again."

In that documentary, Blankenship said the UBB explosion was caused by natural gas.

Many experts in the documentary disagree with just about everything that was released in the state, federal and independent investigations about the disaster.

Manchin told WSAZ.com on Tuesday that the production company told him the piece they were working on was a tribute to the miners and would be about mine safety -- with nothing about Blankenship.

"Don Blankenship used his money that he's gotten from the coal industry from the blood and sweat of our miners and has used that to try and vindicate himself and try to live with himself and his conscience," Manchin said. "He should be worried about his own conscience, and he should be worried about the criminal investigation that is ongoing. He should be worried about his role in this."

Manchin went on to say, "You had the federal investigation, you had the state investigation, you had the independent investigation that I hired. None of them collaborated, and all three came back with exactly the same findings. I know who I believe, and it is not Don Blankenship."

On Tuesday, Blankenship tweeted that Manchin thinks this is about his feelings, saying it's not; it's about miner safety and jobs.

Manchin has filed a cease and desist letter to the company that made the documentary. He wants it taken off of the Internet and distribution stopped.

You had the federal investigation, you had the state investigation you had the independent investigation that I hired. None of them collaborated and all three came back with exactly the same findings. I know who I believe and it is not don blankenship.

ORIGINAL STORY 3/31/14 @ 10:11 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A peek at the documentary "Upper Big Branch, Never Again" is available, and it's already drawing swift reaction.

It is posted on former Massey CEO Don Blankenship's Facebook page.

Several experts discuss their theories about what happened during the mine disaster that killed 29 miners in April 2010.

Much of the documentary disagrees with what federal investigators have said.

On Monday night, Blankenship was on the MSNBC show "All In" to discuss how the documentary is to help pay tribute to those miners who died.

"I think what I am trying to do is prevent other families from suffering, and that is what is going to happen if the government doesn't quit running rough-shot over the coal mines instead of letting people with expertise the opportunity to run their mines," Blankenship said during the MSNBC show. "It is insane to continue the policies that MSHA is taking right now."

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is in the documentary and, according to his spokesman, was outraged by what he saw.

The spokesman said Manchin thought he was doing an interview for a mine safety piece.

Manchin issued the following statement in a prepared release:

“Adroit Films, the propaganda firm behind this shameful documentary, never disclosed to me the intent of this film. They lied to my face and told me this documentary was focused on mine safety, an issue I have been committed to since the Farmington Mine disaster that killed my uncle and 77 miners. Had I known the film was in any way associated with Don Blankenship, I would have never agreed to the interview. I spoke with them for more than half an hour about mine safety and how we must prevent an Upper Big Branch disaster from ever happening again. Yet, the producers only dedicated one minute and thirty-two seconds of my thirty-minute interview to mine safety – one of the most important issues in West Virginia – to attempt to vindicate Don Blankenship. He should be more concerned with his role in the deaths of 29 brave miners and the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation rather than filming a propaganda documentary. I am not only livid that I was lied to, but I am even more enraged that Don Blankenship would manipulate a tragedy to promote himself and his own agenda. I am going to pursue every legal recourse available against Adroit’s despicable tactics. The most tragic part of all of this is that the families of these miners are forced to suffer yet again at the hands of Don Blankenship.”

Manchin plans to speak out more about the issue on Tuesday.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.

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