Aracoma victims' widows continue fight

THE widows of the two miners killed in the Aracoma mine fire in 2006 have appealed the dismissal of their case against the US Mine Safety and Health Administration for the way the agency managed the mine’s inspections.
Aracoma victims' widows continue fight Aracoma victims' widows continue fight Aracoma victims' widows continue fight Aracoma victims' widows continue fight Aracoma victims' widows continue fight

Beginning in 2006, Aracoma installed what is now a mine-wide fire suppression system on all beltlines.

Donna Schmidt

According to regional news service MetroNews, Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield – widows of Don Bragg and Elvis Hatfield killed in the Logan County, West Virginia operation in January 2006 – have taken their case to the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals after US district John Copenhaver dismissed the case last July.

Bragg and Hatfield became separated from the rest of their crew when a mine fire erupted underground, and died as a result of the incident. The widows allege that MSHA was negligent in its regulation of the mine and claim the inspectors should be held responsible.

“We do believe the Aracoma case probably presents the most egregious set of circumstances the court has looked at thus far with regard to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration not doing its job in a coal mine," the widows' attorney Bruce Stanley said, adding that the pair have a strong case.

He also provided a complete brief to the 4th Circuit and said they are waiting on a decision. However, he told MetroNews, he knows that a federal case against a federal agency is not easy to win.

“But we believe Aracoma, as with many things Massey, like the UBB disaster, is a unique and one-of-a-kind circumstance,” he said, adding that more aggressive prosecution at that time may have prevented the Upper Big Branch operation in 2010.

Massey was the owner of the operation at the time of the incident, and was the owner of UBB in April 2010 when an explosion killed 29 miners. Last June, Massey was acquired by Alpha Natural Resources.

He said the two have already settled out of court for their civil lawsuits but have a desire to follow through with the federal case.

“Delorice Bragg told me herself, ‘Bruce, I just want to know that we didn't leave anything undone. That whatever we could get done to make sure this doesn't happen to some other family, I want to do that’”

A spokesperson for MSHA told ILN Monday that the agency was declining comment on the case.

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