LOGAN (AP) — Gas drillers who plowed through a cemetery near a historically black coal camp community in 2004 have been ordered to pay $700,000 in damages.
A Logan County jury ruled Tuesday that Equitable Production Co. and subcontractor General Pipeline were reckless when a bulldozer operator desecrated the Crystal Block Cemetery near Sarah Ann. That means jurors may also award punitive damages during further deliberations Wednesday.
Equitable is a subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based EQT, which did not immediately comment.
General Pipeline shoved aside head stones and metal markers while building a road to a drilling site, but it has argued that it was an “innocent and unknowing entry.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2006, accused General Pipeline and Equitable of negligence, nuisance, trespass, desecration of grave sites and deliberate infliction of emotional distress.
The damage was discovered by James Olbert, whose father Daniel is buried there, but it continued while two more roads were built.
Resident Bud Baisden pleaded with a crew member to stop, the lawsuit said, but the worker used racial slurs in describing who was buried there, and the bulldozing continued.
Although the cemetery was unfenced, relatives said they visited every Memorial Day to clean up and lay flowers.
A 2007 survey conducted for the plaintiffs found 22 marked and unmarked graves, and five displaced markers within an 87- by 59-foot area.
Investigators said they found fragments of metal markers in the bulldozed road, a displaced granite marker and a displaced marble marker indicating the grave of a Korean and World War II veteran who died in 1962.
The last known burial was in 1965, although some graves are known to be much older.
The cemetery was on land long owned by a real estate company that had leased property to coal and gas operators since the early 1900s.