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 Post subject: Charges reduced in Schuylkill County coal mine death case
PostPosted: Wed Mar 04, 2009 9:12 am 
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Location: From Schuylkill County, PA living in Phoenix, AZ
Charges reduced in Schuylkill County coal mine death case

John J. Moser
The Morning Call
March 4, 2009

Judges have dismissed involuntary manslaughter and other counts against one man and lesser counts against the two others charged after an explosion killed a Schuylkill County coal miner.

As a result, Pennsylvania's first criminal trial over a mine fatality, which was supposed to begin Tuesday, will be rescheduled.

David P. Zimmerman, 53, and his son, Steven D. Zimmerman, 33, both of Pine Grove, and Jeffrey T. Klinger, 43, of Tremont are charged in the Oct. 23, 2006, blast at R&D Coal Co. in Tremont Township that killed Dale Reightler, 43, of Donaldson.

County Judge Jacqueline L. Russell, in a ruling filed last week, said there wasn't enough evidence to uphold involuntary manslaughter, causing or risking a catastrophe, reckless endangerment and seven lesser counts against Klinger.

Nor was there enough evidence to support a charge of causing or risking a catastrophe against David Zimmerman, owner of R&D Coal, she said.

Days earlier, county Judge Charles M. Miller dismissed the risking a catastrophe charge against Steven Zimmerman.

The men were charged in April 2008 after federal investigators found ''flagrant'' violations of federal mining regulations led to the methane gas explosion. The investigators blamed the blast on inadequate ventilation and poor blasting practices.

But Russell, in a 52-page opinion, said prosecutors did not establish that Klinger, a miner without certification in blasting, ''consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death.''

In fact, Russell wrote, the only evidence she saw was that Klinger relied on Reightler ''to warn of the methane levels, that Reightler had indicated no methane had been detected and that Reightler had okayed the shot.'' Evidence also showed Reightler decided for himself where to stand when using explosives.

Klinger still is charged with violating the state Anthracite Coal Mine Act.

Both Zimmermans still face involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and related charges. Russell wrote that prosecutors presented evidence David Zimmerman knew there was methane in the mine; that and other evidence, including that he was the mine's owner and operator, support all the charges except causing a catastrophe.

Miller said in a 13-page opinion that prosecutors presented enough evidence to support every charge against Steven Zimmerman except causing a catastrophe.

With the delays, the judges have granted motions to reschedule the trial.

Russell on Tuesday used a hearing in which David Zimmerman sought to get grand jury testimony that led to the charges as an opportunity to lecture his lawyer, Max Kramer of Philadelphia, saying he had improperly filed requests for delays in the case, and was rude to her staff.

Kramer actually withdrew the motion, conceding he had wrongly filed it in Schuylkill instead of Dauphin County, where the grand jury met before recommending the charges in April 2008. But Russell told Kramer: ''I want to talk with you about moving the case along.''

She said the case had been scheduled for March because the state attorney general's office, which is prosecuting the case, said its witnesses would not be available in June, the next term of court. She said Kramer's motion for a delay of the trial didn't have information such as the substance of other hearings he says conflicted with the March trial.

Moreover, she said, David Zimmerman told court personnel that Kramer hadn't told him of a hearing, and ''in dealing with my staff, you're supposedly rude.''

Kramer apologized, saying, ''I never, ever, meant to be rude.''

No new trial date has been set.

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