More than three years after an explosion killed 29 workers at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, the federal investigation continues. So do the consequences.
In September, David C. Hughart, 54, of Crab Orchard, was sentenced to 42 months in jail and three years of supervised release. He pleaded guilty to two federal charges for his role in hiding safety violations from federal inspectors.
Hughart was not working at Upper Big Branch, but his guilty plea grew out of the UBB investigation, a probe that U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin vowed to follow wherever it leads. And Hughart, having worked for a couple dozen subsidiaries of the former Massey Energy over 20 years, pointed all the way up the corporate ladder and implicated former CEO Don Blankenship as part of the conspiracy to subvert mine safety rules.
Rules that Massey employees consistently thwarted were paid for in the lives of earlier generations of miners who died by the scores and by the hundreds. Lessons from their deaths led to laws requiring proper ventilation and precautions against air full of combustible coal dust.
But lessons learned are not necessarily lessons applied, as the world saw at Upper Big Branch.
Three other former employees were sentenced previously. …
This is the most persistent mine disaster investigation in modern memory. Perhaps the prosecutions and penalties will warn others that when it comes to operating as safely as possible, there is a higher authority to answer to than just an employer.
Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette