Massey security chief charged in UBB explosion

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Mar 01, 2011 in Coal Mining Accidents

A federal grand jury handed up a two-count indictment last week for a Massey Energy Co. subsidiary's official. The 60-year-old chief of security at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine is charged with obstructing justice and making false statements to U.S. agents. The April 2010 coal mine accident left 29 workers dead.

The indictment was unsealed earlier this week when the defendant made his first appearance in a Beckley courtroom. The arraignment is scheduled for March 15.

The charges are based on allegations that the defendant lied to an FBI agent and a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration investigator. The defendant reportedly told the investigators that he had not instructed security guards at UBB to announce the arrival of safety inspectors. According to the indictment, the defendant "had himself directed and trained security guards at Performance's Upper Big Branch Mine to give advance notice by announcing the presence of an MSHA inspector."

The obstruction of justice charge comes in part from the defendant allegedly ordering the destruction of thousands of pages of documents related to security. The indictment does not name the employee ordered to dump the documents.

The U.S. Attorney in the case said that the conduct of the defendant impairs efforts to determine what led up to the UBB disaster. Defense counsel did not comment on the charges.

Massey issued a statement affirming the company's commitment to working with the U.S. Attorney on the investigation. According to the statement, the company notified the prosecution "within hours" of learning of the destruction of the documents. Massey also took "immediate steps" to recover the documents and to deliver them to the U.S. Attorney, the statement continued. Finally, the company said an internal review of the matter is underway.

The U.S. Attorney's office reiterated its commitment to the investigation and to prosecuting anyone who tried to hinder it. Families of the victims are pursuing their own civil actions against Massey.

Victims' families told the press they were frustrated that the first indictment in the case took so long. The brother of one miner added, "I hate it for that guy's family, but our families need justice. ... This is something that needs to never be forgotten."

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