RALEIGH COUNTY – The wheels of justice are beginning to move in the Upper Big Branch mining case against a former Massey Energy CEO. Don Blankenship appeared in court Thursday where it was decided he will go to trial on Jan. 26, 2015 at 1 p.m. on charges related to the worst mining disaster in decades.
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It was the Monday after Easter Sunday in 2010. The dayshift working at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, Raleigh County were in their final hour of work. Some miners were already loaded up in mantrips, heading out of the mine when it was rocked by a devastating explosion. It happened just a little after three in the afternoon. An army of emergency responders converged on the Performance Coal Upper Big Branch Mine within minutes after the explosion was reported. Two miners survived the blast, but there were still men who remained underground. In the end, 29 miners died.
Since the Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy, three former Massey Energy Employees have taken the brunt of the blame for the explosion.
Former security chief Hughie Stover was convicted of lying to investigators attempting to destroy evidence during the federal criminal investigation. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
Gary May, the former mine superintendent, was sentenced on federal conspiracy charges.
May cooperated with prosecutors in their continuing criminal investigation of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine. He admitted to charges that he defrauded the government through actions such as disabling a methane gas monitor and falsifying records. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison and fined 20 thousand dollars.
Massey Energy executive David Hughart was accused of letting miners know when MSHA inspectors were coming. He was sentenced to three years in prison for conspiracy.
But the man who was in charge of it all, the one person family members of the miners, as well as others in the mining industry demanded answer for what happened, hasn’t taken the heat for trying to cover safety violations at Upper Big Branch Mine.