Judge approves Aracoma plea

By Justin Anderson | Apr 16, 2009

CHARLESTON – A federal judge has approved a plea in a government case against a coal company in the deaths of two miners.

Over the objection of the miners' widows, U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver on Wednesday approved a deal in which Aracoma Coal Company pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges and pay a $2.5 million fine related to the deaths of Don Bragg and Ellery Hatfield.

The men died in a mine fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine in Logan County in January 2006.

In addition to the fine, the coal company also paid a special assessment of $1,525 and will be on probation for three years. The company also agreed to pay $1.7 million in civil fines levied by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The miners' widows, Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield, had objected to the plea deal because prosecutors agreed not to pursue charges against Massey Energy officials.

Aracoma is a subsidiary of Massey Energy.

The women argued that Massey officials stressed production over safety and blamed this attitude on their husbands' deaths.

The company has already settled wrongful death lawsuits brought by the families of Bragg and Hatfield.

The criminal charges against Aracoma centered on the company's not providing a proper escape tunnel for miners and for not adequately training miners on evacuation.

On Jan. 14, Aracoma's president, Johnny Jones, endorsed a guilty plea to all 10 counts of the information filed by federal prosecutors brought against the company.

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