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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2008 2:20 pm 
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Location: From Schuylkill County, PA living in Phoenix, AZ
From today's Morning Call:


Coal company charges a first for attorney general
Official: Conviction could spur other mine firms to play by rules.
By Chris Parker

Of The Morning Call

April 20, 2008

Violations at the R&D Coal Co.'s Buck Mountain Slope mine in Schuylkill County were so egregious, officials say, that the state attorney general's office was pressed to do something it had never done before: Launch a criminal investigation of a mine fatality.

Following a grand jury presentment, the state attorney general on Wednesday filed involuntary manslaughter and other charges against company owner David Zimmerman, his son and foreman Steven Zimmerman, both of Pine Grove, and miner Jeffrey Klinger of Tremont.

The charges stem from a 2004 explosion that injured four miners, two seriously, and a 2006 blast that killed a miner.

''This is the first mining fatality that our office has investigated,'' said Chief Deputy Attorney General Glenn Parno.

The case is a rarity in Pennsylvania and the United States, with few mining companies facing prosecution for fatalities.

According to a Nov. 6, 2006, report by the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, which analyzed records over a 10-year period, federal prosecutors brought criminal charges in eight of the 297 accidents that killed coal miners.

After an explosion caused by a lightning strike at the Sago coal mine in West Virginia led to the deaths of 12 miners in January 2006, Congress and some states began to upgrade their mine safety laws.

Pennsylvania is in the process of updating its laws, which date to 1961, but they are only effective if violations are taken seriously, said Emily A. Spieler, an occupational safety expert at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, Mass.

''[There has been a] remarkable reluctance to see and act on individual and corporate unwillingness to take these hazards seriously,'' Spieler said. ''There is a reluctance to see corporations as acting against the interest of the community when the corporations provide jobs in the community.''

A former foreman at Sago was charged with falsifying certifications as an inspector and lying about safety checks a year before the accident, but federal investigators brought no charges against the mine operator for the explosion, which was determined to be an accident.

However, another mining accident in West Virginia -- at the Aracoma Alma Mine No. 1 -- prompted federal charges against a subsidiary of mine owner Massey Energy Co. after two miners were killed there in 2006.

Parno said federal and local agencies have brought charges against coal companies for fatalities in Pennsylvania in the past, but he did not have details.

The state Department of Environmental Protection also has referred nonfatal cases before, including the accident at Quecreek, the 2002 western Pennsylvania mine accident in which nine miners were trapped hundreds of feet below the surface for three days.

A grand jury determined that no criminal charges should be brought in that case.

The state attorney general's office took on the R&D Coal Company case because the state DEP and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration had investigated the company and found serious and repeated violations of the Anthracite Coal Mine Act.

MSHA had fined R&D about $900,000 for the violations after the 2006 blast that killed miner Dale Reightler.

After reviewing the information gathered by the state and federal agencies, state Attorney General Tom Corbett brought the matter before a grand jury.

After several months of listening to testimony from eight miners and two state mine inspectors, the grand jury in March decided charges should be brought.

Jurors learned that the Zimmermans allegedly had miners working under dangerous conditions: pre-shift inspections were scant or didn't happen at all, there wasn't enough ventilation, methane detectors weren't used and explosives weren't properly handled, according to court documents.

Further, the Zimmermans tried to cover up the cause of the 2004 blast, telling DEP inspectors that an air or water line had burst, according to court documents. David Zimmerman told an inspector he did not believe any miners were injured. One miner whose leg was broken, Craig Eichert, told the grand jury Steve Zimmerman had detonated a charge without first checking for methane.

Miner Lewis Graver testified that David Zimmerman told four workers to ''keep their mouths shut if they wanted to keep their jobs.''

The grand jury found that Klinger's failure to follow safety procedures led to Reightler's death.

''I don't think the grand jury had any problem here deciding that the conduct was grossly reckless and grossly negligent,'' Parno said. ''If it were just an accident, we would not be involved.''

The Zimmermans and Klinger, who are awaiting a preliminary hearing, did not return calls for comment.

Parno said the R&D charges -- if they lead to convictions -- might inspire other mine officials to play by the rules.

''Any time there's a conviction, there's a deterrent effect,'' he said. ''There's an obligation to see that justice is done. You have a dead miner, a widow and three kids without a dad. It's our duty to bring charges in this situation.''

United Mine Workers of America spokesman Phil Smith said his group was pleased with the charges.

''It seems to us that when you go out of your way to rearrange evidence, threaten people who are working for you [to stop them] from giving evidence, there are criminal acts involved,'' he said. ''The charges are appropriate.''

Copyright © 2008, The Morning Call

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2008 3:52 pm 
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"After an explosion caused by a lightning strike at the Sago coal mine in West Virginia led to the deaths of 12 miners in January 2006, Congress and some states began to upgrade their mine safety laws."

eerrr eehhmm cough bull sh*t cough

lightning strike... what a joke i say.

its funny if you read it they make it sound like they were doing so much wrong all the time, but then they only mention MSHA doing anything about their violations AFTER the accident happened.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2008 6:58 pm 
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That's a good point. If they were mining it as recklessley as what were hearing why didn't MSHA do something before this happened? It's not like you can hide the way that chamber was being worked.

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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 7:08 am 
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News > Local News
Miners’ hearing continued
TREMONT — A preliminary hearing for three men charged in connection with the death of a miner in 2006 was continued Thursday.
BY FRANK ANDRUSCAVAGE
STAFF WRITER
fandruscavage@republicanherald.com
Published: Friday, May 30, 2008 5:37 AM EDT
TREMONT — A preliminary hearing for three men charged in connection with the death of a miner in 2006 was continued Thursday.

David Zimmerman, Pine Grove, owner of R&D Coal Co.; Steven Zimmerman, Pine Grove, mine foreman; and miner Jeffrey Klinger, Tremont, were scheduled to appear before Magisterial District Judge Carol A. Pankake but the proceedings were continued until June 12.

The men were charged by the state Attorney General’s Office in April after an investigation into the Oct. 23, 2006, death of miner Dale Reightler, 43, of Donaldson.

Reightler died in an incident at the Buck Mountain Mine in Tremont Township, a site owned by R&D Coal Co.

Both Zimmermans are charged with involuntary manslaughter, causing or risking a catastrophe, recklessly endangering another person, obstruction of justice, criminal conspiracy and violation of the Anthracite Mining Act.

Charges against Klinger include involuntary manslaughter, causing or risking a catastrophe, recklessly endangering another person and violation of the Anthracite Mining Act.

All three men remain free on $50,000 unsecured bail set by Pankake at their preliminary hearing last month.




Copyright © 2008 - The Republican & Herald


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 10:12 am 
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From an "outside looking in" perspective, it sounds to me that they are trying to make an example of these guys. Add this to the fact that they were already on MSHA's radar, and it's bad news all around.

I think they are using the "throw the spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks" approach to the charges. If they put all of those in there, they're bound to get something even if it's only reckless endangerment or risking a catastrophe. You can bet they are hoping for involuntary manslaughter.

My only hope is that they've got good representation and can get a fair trial. Where will the trial be held? Will the jurors be familiar with coal mining? It helps if the jury knows about the day-to-day operations of a mine and all that.

I feel for the three of them. It can't be easy to lose an employee and friend in an accident like that. They'll have to live with that and I think that's punishment enough for any perceived criminal acts that the higher ups think occurred.

Anyway, that's my thoughts on the subject.

T


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 4:53 pm 
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"Will the jurors be familiar with coal mining?"

hah.. I HIGHLY doubt it, because anyone around here that has anything to do with coal mining is going to vote against MSHA.

And if they get coal people from outside the area here it might turn the other way..

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