Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

November 28, 2012

Massey vice president faces federal conspiracy charges

David Hughart cooperating with investigation

(Continued)

The explosion at Upper Big Branch was sparked by worn teeth on a cutting machine, and fueled by methane and coal dust. It was allowed to propagate by clogged and broken water sprayers. The force of the blast traveled miles of underground corridors, rounding corners and doubling back on itself to kill men instantly.

Goodwin's office negotiated a $210 million agreement with Alpha to settle past violations at UBB and other Massey mines, protecting the company from criminal prosecution.

But individuals such as Hughart remain on the hook. 

A memo suggesting Blankenship regularly ordered underlings to put profits before safety emerged during a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the widows of two men killed in a 2006 fire at Massey's Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 mine.

The memo told workers that if their bosses asked them to build roof supports or perform similar safety-related tasks, "ignore them and run coal."

"This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills," it said.

Massey settled that lawsuit for undisclosed terms, and Aracoma paid $4.2 million in civil and criminal penalties.

Public records suggest Hughart worked closely for at least 15 years with Blankenship, who retired about eight months after the disaster.

Blankenship dropped out of public view for a while but has been resurfacing. Last month, he donated $300,000 to the Marshall University medical school, and he's been posting his thoughts on politics and other matters on a website.

Gary Quarles, who lost his son Gary Wayne at Upper Big Branch, said he wants the former CEO to face criminal charges.

"Everybody thinks he's above the law," he said. "I want at least something filed against him, to show him you can be had. It doesn't matter what he's charged with, just something. ... Even Martha Stewart went to jail.

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