The former security chief at the West Virginia mine where 29 workers were killed in April 2010 was sentenced to three years in prison on charges that he lied to federal agents during the investigation. Hughie Elbert Stower had originally faced a maximum possible sentence of 25 years by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger.
Last October he was convicted of giving false statements to the FBI and investigators with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). He was also convicted of obstructing the federal investigation into the cause of the explosion at Upper Big Branch mine.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin had sought a 25-year sentence, but he said he wasn’t disappointed with the judge’s decision. “This represents perhaps one of the longest sentences ever handed down in a mine safety case,” Goodwin said. “We wanted to send a clear message and will continue to send that anyone who obstructs our investigation, they’re going to be met with the harshest prosecution.”
According to witnesses who testified, Stover instructed mine guards to send out radio alerts when inspectors would enter the property, which is illegal. A second count alleged he sought to destroy documents by “ordering a subordinate to bag them and throw them into an on-site trash compactor,” which is illegal as well.
The MSHA released its final report on the incident in December 2011, concluding that flagrant safety violations contributed to a coal dust explosion. It issued 369 citations at that time, assessing $10.8 million in penalties. The Upper Big Branch mine disaster remains the worst coal mine disaster since 1970 when 38 miners were killed at Finley Coal Company’s mines in Hyden, Kentucky.Risk Management Magazine and Risk Management Monitor. Copyright 2013 Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc. All rights reserved.