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NEW INFO: W.Va. Mine Widows Bring Fight to Supreme Court

By: Brooks Jarosz; Associated Press Email
By: Brooks Jarosz; Associated Press Email

UPDATE 10/17/12 @ 2:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia's Supreme Court must now decide whether two widows can sue federal mine inspectors for their husbands' deaths.

Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield believe the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration should have detected dangerous conditions at Massey Energy's Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine.

Don Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield died in the Logan County mine during a 2006 fire. Massey and its subsidiary later agreed to pay $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties.

A lawyer for the widows asked the Supreme Court during a Wednesday hearing to find the agency liable under state law.

A U.S. Justice Department lawyer argued that the law does not allow the claim given the facts of the case.

The widows settled with the company for undisclosed terms in 2008.



UPDATE 12/9/10 @ 4:20 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Four former supervisors at a Massey Energy Co. coal mine where two men died in a conveyer belt fire have each been sentenced to one year of probation on federal misdemeanor charges.

The four pleaded guilty last July and admitted they failed to lead crews on required escape drills from Massey's Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine at various times in 2005 and 2006.

U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. fined three of the men $2,000 apiece Thursday. The fourth was fined $1,000.

The charges stem from the investigation of the Jan. 19, 2006, fire that killed Don Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield, who got lost trying to flee from the sprawling Logan County mine.

Massey's Aracoma Coal Co. paid $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties related to the fire.



UPDATE 7/20/10 @ 7:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Four Massey Energy supervisors pleaded guilty in connection with a coal mine fire that killed two men.

They admitted in federal court Tuesday that they failed to conduct mandatory safety drills at Massey's Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan in 2005 and 2006.

Every 90 days, supervisors must conduct an escape way drill. This requires walking part of the mine and going through the motions in case a fire or other danger were to occur.

Donald Hagy told the judge they stay busy and many times they don't have time conduct a drill. He and Edward Ellis Jr. said they even recorded drills in the log book, yet never had their men do the required safety procedure.

Michael Plumber told the court he has participated in the drills but never completed a drill with his crew as a foreman. Terry Shad said he also knew the requirements but never followed them.

Don Bragg and Ellory Hatfield were both killed when a conveyor belt fire broke out at the Aracoma mine on Jan. 19, 2006. They got lost in the smoke and weren't able to make it out.

The two widows' lawyer says the blame really rests on the shoulders of management and the U.S. government.

"I find it difficult to believe that individual foreman were responsible for the conditions that ultimately found themselves at Aracoma," lawyer Bruce Stanley said. "The mine was a mess, and it's incomprehensible that the mine could have gotten in the condition it had without the knowledge and understanding of upper management."

Stanley said they'll keep fighting to bring justice to the true culprits.

The four foreman who pleaded guilty face up to a year in prison and a potential $100,000 fine. They could also serve an additional year on supervised release.



UPDATE 7/20/10 @ 4:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Four men who worked as supervisors at a Massey Energy mine where two men died in a fire have pleaded guilty to federal crimes.

Forty-seven-year-old Donald Hagy Jr., 37-year-old Terry Shadd, 38-year-old Edward R. Ellis Jr. and 38-year-old Michael Plumley admitted failing to hold mandatory safety drills at Massey's Alma No. 1 mine Tuesday in Charleston federal court. Miners Don Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield died in the fire.

The four face up to a year in prison and $100,000 fines.

Massey's Aracoma Coal subsidiary paid $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties stemming from the fire.

Richmond, Va.-based Massey faces separate criminal and civil investigations of an explosion that killed 29 West Virginia miners in April.



UPDATE 7/12/10
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Guilty plea hearings are set for later this month for four Massey Energy supervisors charged with federal crimes related to a coal mine fire that killed two West Virginians in 2006.

Prosecutors say the men are accused of failing to conduct mandatory safety drills at Massey's Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine in 2005 and 2006. Two men died trying to escape a conveyer-belt fire at the Logan County mine on Jan. 19, 2006, after getting lost in thick smoke.

According to court filings, guilty plea hearings are scheduled for July 20.



UPDATE 7/1/10
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Federal prosecutors say four Massey Energy supervisors have been charged with crimes stemming from a fatal fire at a West Virginia mine in 2006.

Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, says the men are accused of failing to conduct safety drills at Massey's Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine in 2005 and 2006. Two men died trying to escape a conveyer belt fire at the Logan County mine on Jan. 19, 2006.

A Massey spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Separately, prosecutors say they've charged two men who work for another coal company with falsifying training records for truck drivers at a surface coal mine in West Virginia.



UPDATE 7/9/09
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A Massey Energy foreman who pleaded guilty to a federal charge of failing to conduct safety drills has been fined $1,000.

U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver also placed 43-year-old David R. Runyon on probation for a year at a hearing Thursday.

Runyon pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge last April as part of a deal with federal prosecutors, who dropped four other charges.

Runyon also agreed to give up his state-issued underground mine foreman's certificate.

Runyon's actions were uncovered during a separate investigation into a Jan. 19, 2006 fire that killed two men at Massey's Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine in southern West Virginia.

Richmond, Va.-based Massey, the fourth-largest U.S. coal producer by revenue, operates mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.



UPDATE 4/9/09
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A Massey Energy foreman has pleaded guilty to failing to conduct safety drills at a West Virginia coal mine.

David R. Runyon entered the plea Thursday. U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver deferred accepting Runyon's plea until sentencing on July 9. He faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Runyon originally was indicted on five counts of skipping mandatory evacuation drills and falsifying records. He later agreed to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of failing to conduct escape drills.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hunter Smith says the deal also requires Runyon to give up his foreman's certificate.

Runyon's actions were uncovered during a separate investigation into a fatal January 2006 fire at Massey's Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine.



UPDATE 4/9/09
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A former Aracoma mine foreman who denied violating mining regulations is expected to plea guilty to the charges on Thursday.

According to court records, David Runyon has a hearing in federal court at 11:00 a.m. Thursday.

A court spokesperson tells WSAZ.com Runyon is expected to plead guilty to failing to follow a safety standard at the Alma Number One Mine in Logan County. That's where two miners were killed in a mine fire in 2006.

Just back in February, Runyon pleaded not guilty to a five-count indictment accusing him of skipping mandatory evacuation drills and falsifying records at the the mine.

We will have a crew at the hearing. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the very latest information.

UPDATE 2/17/09
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A mine foreman from a coal mine where two men died is expected to go on trial later this Spring for allegedly violating safety standards.

David Runyon was arraigned in federal court Tuesday and released on a $10,000 bond.

An indictment accuses Runyon of knowingly violating safety standards because he didn't have mandatory evacuation drills at the Aracoma Mine.

Runyon is also charged with falsifying records to show that the drills were conducted in 2005.

The two men died when a conveyor belt caught fire back in January 2006.

During his arraignment, Runyon pleaded not guilty to the charges. The judge also ordered Runyon not to discuss the case with anyone.

Runyon faces up to 17 years in prison and a $700 thousand dollar fine.

According to court records, Runyon still works at the mine.

Runyon's trial is now set for April 20.



UPDATE 1/29/09
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A mine foreman has been charged with five federal criminal charges stemming from a fire that killed two men at a West Virginia coal operation in January 2006.

An indictment issued Thursday accuses 43-year-old David R. Runyon of knowingly violating safety standards by failing to hold mandatory evacuation drills. Runyon's also charged with falsifying records to show that the drills were conducted.

The indictment identifies Runyon as the foreman of one of two crews that were underground at Massey Energy Co.'s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine when a conveyer belt caught fire Jan. 19, 2006. Two members of the other crew died after getting lost in thick smoke.

Runyon faces up to 17 years in prison and a $700,000 fine.

Massey's Aracoma Coal Co. recently pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to the fire.



UPDATE 12/23/08
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- U.S. Attorney Charles Miller says Massey Energy will pay $4.2 million in civil and criminal penalties stemming from a January 2006 fire that killed two workers at a West Virginia mine.

Tuesday's announcement follows an investigation by Miller's office and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration into the conveyor belt fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine that killed 33-year-old Don Bragg and 47-year-old Ellery Elvis Hatfield.

Miller says Massey subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. has agreed to plead guilty to a 10-count information charging the company with willful violations of mandatory safety requirements.

He adds the criminal investigation is ongoing and it's possible that individuals could be charged.



STATEMENT FROM MASSEY ENERGY:
RICHMOND, Va. - Massey Energy Company’s (NYSE: MEE) Aracoma Coal Company today announced that it has reached agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) on the fines and penalties relating to the Aracoma Alma No.1 Mine fire in January 2006. The $4.2 million resolution addresses citations issued by MSHA and an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Since the fire, John Jones, the new president at Aracoma Coal Company, has worked with the members of Aracoma to create a renewed focus on safety. Due to the focus and hard work of all the members at Aracoma, the mine has transformed its safety record. In April 2008, the West Virginia State Council of the Holmes Safety Association recognized two Aracoma mines with national Pacesetter Awards for their safety records in 2007. This recognition honors mining operations with exceptionally low lost-time accident rates. The Aracoma miners also received the Massey Bradbury Safety Award in recognition of their outstanding safety performance of zero lost-time accidents in 2007.

John Jones, President, Aracoma Coal Company said:

“While we will never forget the loss of our two members, resolving these issues with the U.S. Attorney and MSHA will help all of us at Aracoma Coal Company move forward from this tragic accident. Since the fire, all of us at Aracoma have pulled together in a united effort to improve safety. I am very proud of the members of Aracoma and their focus on safety.”



UPDATE 12/1/07
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Massey Energy Co. is facing another lawsuit over a fatal fire at one of its mines. Wyatt Robinson's lawsuit claims Richmond, Va.-based Massey and a subsidiary, Aracoma Coal Company Inc., failed to maintain proper afety measures at the Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County.

Two miners, 46-year-old Ellery Elvis Hatfield and 33-year-old
Don Bragg, were killed in the Jan. 19, 2006, fire at the mine.

Robinson's lawsuit says he will suffer lung damage from the
fire. he lawsuit was filed Friday in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
Its allegations are similar to those contained in two other
lawsuits filed previously by seven other survivors.

Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater had not seen the latest
lawsuit and had no comment Friday.



UPDATE 03/03/07
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Defense attorneys have confirmed that five employees of Richmond, Virginia-based coal company Massey Energy are facing criminal investigation for a fire that killed two miners at a Logan County mine in January 2006.

The revelation came during a preliminary hearing Friday in
unrelated state disciplinary proceedings. The state Office of
Miners' Health, Safety and Training wants to revoke the mining
certificates of five employees at Massey's Aracoma Alma Number One
Mine. The agency wants to suspend two other Aracoma miners.
The seven are accused of various violations of state mining law.

Attorneys for Michael Plumley, who faces possible suspension,
and Dustin Dotson say their clients are likely to be indicted by a
federal grand jury. The state wants to revoke Dotson's license.

Attorneys for Jeffrey Perry and Fred Horton, who could lose
their licenses, say their clients are under investigation. And
Christopher Herndon's lawyer says prosecutors consider his client a
person of interest. Herndon also faces revocation of his mining
certificate.

The U-S Attorney's Office in Charleston began investigating the
fire last April.



UPDATE 12/20/06
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The widows of the two miners who died at the Aracoma mine are suing the company and Don Blankenship.

Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The two widows are accusing Massey of not recognizing the problems with the conveyor belt and not having the proper sprinkler system.

Donald Bragg and Elvis Hatfield died last January when a conveyor caught on fire at the Logan County mine.



UPDATE 11/28/06
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The State of West Virginia has requested to suspend or withdrawal the certifications of seven employees at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine. Members of the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health and Safety investigating team made these recommendations.

On, January 19, Elvis Hatfield and Don Bragg were killed after a belt caught fire inside the mine. Ten of their fellow miners made it out safely.

Three separate reports were released about the incident. The latest: just two weeks ago. After the report presentation: investigators told WSAZ strengthening laws might help prevent future tragedies. The inspectors showed video from inside the mine after the fire, explaining that clearer laws for carbon monoxide monitoring and stronger requirements for fire sprinkler systems are needed.

Inspectors also said Aracoma Miners benefited from a refresher course on using air packs just days before the tragedy.

Click on the links below to read the reports from the state about each miner:

  • Carl White
  • Dustin Dotson
  • Fred Horton
  • Jeffrey Perry
  • Michael Plumley
  • Terry Shadd
  • Christopher Herndon



    UPDATE 11/02/06
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- State investigators are citing missing air control walls and faulty firefighting equipment as key factors in a January belt fire that killed two miners at a Massey Energy mine in Logan County.

    According to a report released Thursday by the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, the missing wall allowed smoke to enter the main escape route at the Aracoma Alma Number One Mine. Miners Don Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield got separated from their crew in the smoke-filled mine and were unable to escape. The report also says the crew was not notified of danger for approximately 40 minutes after the fire began at about 5 pm.

    The investigation further found that the line that was supposed to supply water to the area of the fire had been shut off and that fire hoses in that part of the mine had incompatible fittings, a fact that had been discovered nearly a month earlier.

    The report also found that an automatic fire sprinkler system failed.



    UPDATE 11/1/06
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia's Coal Mine Health and Safety Board will not meet Thursday to discuss the investigation into the Aracoma Mine disaster. That's where two miners in Logan County were killed when a belt line caught fire.

    A board member says the meeting has been postponed because the board wants to make sure all meeting procedures have been followed.

    Massey Energy President Don Blankenship released a statement Tuesday claiming some state politicians were trying to use this tragedy as a way to sway the election their way.

    The board's next meeting is set for November 30.



    UPDATE 9/5/06
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- An investigation into the deadly mining accident at the Aracoma Mine may take a new turn.

    The conveyor belt fire happened in January in Logan County.

    A new report found smoke filled the miners' escape route, forcing miners to use others methods to find clean air. Under federal law, the routes have to be isolated by walls so miners can have a clear way out. But miners say the walls were gone and it's not clear why.

    The Mine Safety Office is suppose to release a report on the accident later this month.

    Don Bragg and Elvis Hatfield died in the fire.


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