KY: Federal Officials Charge Mine Operators with Violating Safety Legislation

Liz Carey

Owensboro, KY (WorkersCompensation.com) – A federal indictment handed down this week charges eight former supervisors at Armstrong Coal with conspiracy to defraud mine safety officials.

According to Russell Coleman, US Attorney General for the Western District of Kentucky, supervisors with the now bankrupt coal company used “deceit, trickery and dishonest means” to violate safety rules at the Parkway Mine in Muhlenberg County and the Kronos Mine in Ohio County, both in western Kentucky.

Those actions put coal miners in greater danger of developing coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, caused by long-term exposure to coal dust.

A federal grand jury handed down the indictments saying that the supervisors removed dust testing devices early in mining shifts and places them in cleaner areas; improperly sent miners without dust monitors into areas where monitors were required; ordered safety officials at the company to fabricate test results by running dust testing samples during days when the mine was not in operation; and ordered monitors to be run in clean air to alter their results.

In 1969, Congress passed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, in a national effort to eliminate black lung disease. Amended in 1977, it required mines to meet safety standards, use appropriate equipment and organize training for miners, as well as provide them with benefits to help miners who developed the disease. Since 1968, Black lung disease has killed more than 76,000 miners and resulted in cost more than $45 billion in benefits to coal miners and their survivors.

“The health of our miners matters to Western Kentucky communities and those sworn to protect them,” US Attorney Coleman said. “When companies and their senior officials are prepared to disregard the law and put miners at rick, they should also be prepared to face federal prosecutors.”

Wendy McCormick, spokesperson for Coleman’s office told WorkersCompensation.com that while none of the men are in custody, they are scheduled to be arraigned in early August. Penalties for the charges are up to five years in federal prison with no chance of parole, three years of probation and up to $250,000 in fines.

“(Issues like these) are always in an investigative state,” McCormick said. “If other incidents come up, we will file charges.”

The company, although out of business, was named as a co-conspirator in the case. The former Armstrong Coal supervisors indicted were:

  • Charley Barber, age 63, of Madisonville, a former Superintendent of Parkway Mine;
  • Brian Keith Casebier, age 60, of Earlington, a former Safety Director at Parkway Mine;
  • Steven Demoss, age 48, of Nortonville, a former Assistant Safety Director at Parkway Mine;
  • Billie Hearld, age 41, of Russellville, a former Section Foreman at Parkway Mine;
  • Ron Ivy, age 49, of Manitou, a former Safety Director at Kronos Mine;
  • John Ellis Scott, age 61, of South Carrollton, a former employee in the Safety Department at Parkway Mine;
  • Dwight Fulkerson, age 40, of Drakesboro, a former Section Foreman who performed dust testing at Parkway Mine; and
  • Jeremy Hackney, age 45, of White Plains, also a former Section Foremen who performed dust testing at Parkway Mine.

Tony Oppegard, a Lexington, KY attorney who represents many miners, did not immediately return calls and emails for comment by press time.