Coal Mine Deaths

Nine men have died inside U.S. coal mines in the six months since the Upper Big Branch disaster, underscoring the Obama administration's continuing difficulty curbing safety problems underground. Several of the men died in mines that had been repeatedly cited by safety violations, including in special "impact inspections" that the government launched after Upper Big Branch.

Thomas N. Brown, 61

Date: July 9, 2010
Place: Willow Lake Portal mine, Saline County, Ill.
Read the Federal preliminary report

As of August, this mine had the fifth-most "significant and substantial" safety violations of any U.S. coal mine since January 2009. It was on the list of mines targeted for "impact inspections" by federal regulators after Upper Big Branch. Over the three months after the upper Big Branch blast, inspectors wrote 35 citations for “significant and substantial” violations. Several citations were for safety problems with mine vehicles and equipment. On April 9, an inspector noted that the mine had been cited 61 times in two years for violating a rule requiring equipment to be maintained in safe condition.

Read more »

Michael Carter, 28 (shown), and Justin Travis, 27

Date: April 28, 2010
Place: Dotiki mine, Hopkins County, Ky.
Read the state accident report

Dotiki is a sprawling underground complex that is the largest mine in Kentucky. As of August, it had received the seventh-most “significant and substantial” safety citations of any U.S. coal mine since January 2009. It was included in the 89 coal mines targeted for "impact inspections" by federal authorities after the Upper Big Branch disaster. In the first 23 days after the Upper Big Branch explosion, the mine received 23 more citations there, including a "significant and substantial" violation, for failing to immediately report a roof fall.

Read more »

Robie Erwin, 55

Date: May 10, 2010
Place: Ruby Energy mine, Mingo County, W.Va.
Read the federal preliminary accident report

The Ruby Energy mine, which burrows into a hillside near the Kentucky border, is owned by Massey Energy--the Richmond-based coal giant that also owns Upper Big Branch. As of August, the mine ranked 11th on the list of U.S. coal mines with the most “significant and substantial” safety citations since January 2009. It was included among the 89 coal mines singled out for "impact inspections" by federal inspectors after Upper Big Branch. In a little over a month after the blast, inspectors wrote 75 citations at Ruby Energy, including 28 they deemed “significant and substantial.”

Read more »

Jimmy R. Carmack, 42

Date: June 16, 2010
Place: Clover Fork #1 mine, Harlan County, Ky.
Read the Federal preliminary report and the State investigation report

This mine, owned by a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Arch Coal, was cited 49 times in the 10 times in the two months after the Upper Big Branch explosion, including 27 times for “significant and substantial” problems. Among those citations were eight for failures involving the support of the mine's roof and walls. It was not the first time they had noted that problem. On June 2, one wrote out a citation for an improperly supported roof, and noted “This standard was cited 42 times in two years at this mine.” Two weeks later, part of one mine wall caved in. It didn't hurt anyone, and Carmack--who was a section foreman--was supervising a crew that would clean up the loose rock.

Read more »

Bobby L. Smith, 29

Date: June 24, 2010
Place: Leeco #68 mine, Perry County, Ky.
Read the federal preliminary report and the State final report

Smith was kneeling to the side of a “continuous miner”--a huge machine that digs coal out of the rock face--and operating it by a remote control. He angled the front of the machine slightly to avoid a jutting piece of rock, a state investigation later found. When Smith did so, investigators found, the rear of the machine moved right, toward him. It pinned him against the mine’s wall. Kentucky state investigators later found that Smith was positioned inside the “red zone,” a space around the machine considered too close for safety. They also found that Smith had “concentrations of substances” in his blood and urine.

Read more »

Wilbert “Ray” Starcher, 60

Date: July 1, 2010
Place: Pocahontas mine, Greenbrier County, W.Va.
Read the federal preliminary report

Starcher, an electrician, had worked in coal mines for 35 years. On July 1, he was run over by a “shuttle car,” a vehicle that hauls loose coal from mining machines to conveyer belts. Neither federal nor West Virginia authorities have announced the results of their investigation. This mine, owned by a subsidiary of Massey Energy, had been hit with 27 citations for "significant and substantial" safety violations in nearly three months after Upper Big Branch. In several instances, inspectors had used unusually harsh language. They cited the mine for failing to follow its roof-control plan or perform proper safety inspections, and said the operation had engaged in "aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence."

Read more »

John King, 28

Date: April 22, 2010
Place: Beckley Pocahontas mine, Raleigh County, W.Va.
Read the federal accident report

Federal investigators say John King, 28, was controlling a “continuous miner”--a large machine that cuts coal out of the rock--when a boom attached to the machine pinned him against the mine wall. He suffered crushing injuries, and died the next day. Investigators faulted King for standing in the “Red Zone,” too close to the side of the machine he was operating. They said the mine, owned by the International Coal Group, failed to have an effective policy in place to prevent "red zone" injuries.

Read more »

Jessie Adkins, 39

Date: July 29, 2010
Place: Loveridge mine, Marion County, W.Va.
Read the Federal preliminary report

The Loveridge mine, whose parent company is Pennsylvania coal giant Consol Energy, ranked fourth as of August among the U.S. coal mines with the most "significant and substantial" violations since January 2009. It was included in the list of 89 coal mines targeted for "impact inspections" by federal regulators after Upper Big Branch. The mine had recently received a pair of safety awards: in March, it got a “Joseph A. Holmes Safety Award” from an association that includes representatives from state and federal agencies, as well as mining companies and labor unions. And in January, it had been given a “Mountaineer Guardian Award” from the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training and the W. Va. Coal Association.

Read more »


© The Washington Post Company