It was dark, rainy, and cold when the call came. There had been a massive explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine. A community gasp, then a dreaded quiet blanketed the little West Virginia village, as the families came together to talk with muffled voices and wait for news of the dead, praying and fearful. The mine’s CEO’s sentence might be prison, but for those they loved, the sentence was death.
That night 29 men did not come home.
Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is a heaping pile of dung. He knew that his mines did not meet safety requirements. In fact, he punished men for reporting safety issues. Yet after his actions killed 29 men, he retired with a $12 million golden parachute, according to Gazettemail.com.
Today, his blatant callousness and multiple safety violations caught up with him, and a judge ordered Don Blankenship to prison for a year and to pay a $250,000 fine. Both are the maximum penalty for the crime of violating federal mine safety and health standards, a misdemeanor. He has not yet been charged with causing the explosion.
The CEO could have prevented the terrible explosion simply with mine ventilation, roof support, and dust control. Every day that the men went into the mines, they knew the terrible risks, but they needed the job.
In addition, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced former CEO to one year of supervised release (probation) for the worst coal mine disaster in a generation. She spoke to a courtroom of family members of the dead and survivors, but refused to let any of them speak. The judge said:
‘By putting profits of the company ahead of the safety of your miners, you, Mr. Blankenship, created a culture of non-compliance at Upper Big Branch. Instead of being able to tout you as a West Virginia success story, we are here as a result of your participation in a dangerous conspiracy.’
Shirley Whitt’s brother Boone Payne died, she said:
‘I hope today will bring change for the entire coal industry.’
Although Berger cut off Blankenship after his first sentence, because she did not allow the familes speak, the man who put profit above the lives of his employees said:
‘There was no direct evidence I committed a crime. I am not guilty of a crime.’
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said:
‘If ever a case cried out for the maximum sentence, this is it. Breaking mine safety laws kills people. Breaking mine safety laws kills coal miners. The defendant placed human lives in jeopardy.’
Somehow Blankenship slid away from charges of securities fraud and making a false statement, which were felonies and would have meant decades in prison and far higher fines.
The judge threw out an Alpha Natural Resources’ and federal prosecutors’ request for $28 million in restitution. Alpha purchased the mine a year after the disaster.
Too bad Blankenship didn’t get far, far worse.
Watch the touching video about this terrible, one-manmade disaster:
Featured Image: Screenshot.
H/T: WV Gazettemail.com.
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