The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Montcoal Mine Disaster

May 19, 2011

Families not surprised Massey was irresponsible

BECKLEY — For the father of one of the victims of the tragedy at Upper Big Branch, hearing investigators say the accident was preventable and largely due to ignoring important safety measures came as no surprise.

Gary Wayne Quarles, whose son of the same name perished in the Upper Big Branch explosion, also worked for Massey Energy at a nearby mine. He thanked the investigators for providing some answers but said it was time for Massey to “step up” and accept fault for what has happened.

“They need to step up to the plate and say ‘We are responsible,’” Quarles said. “Somebody has got to step up and say, ‘We are responsible for these men being killed,’ and no one has done that yet. Massey owns the mine, they operate it, they make it clear it belongs to them. They need to be made to step up to the plate.”

The report’s description of Massey as “reckless” in regards to safety “sounded about right,” Quarles said.

Quarles criticized top officials for refusing to speak about their roles leading up to the UBB explosion. He said he is currently still employed by Massey but no longer reports to work and expects payment to stop soon.

Quarles attended the press briefing on the report and a prior meeting for family members of the victims. He said he had heard a lot of the information before, including accusations of deficient rock-dusting in UBB.

In his nine to 10 years at Massey, Quarles said he had already formed his own opinion of Massey safety priorities.

“They have no safety,” he said.

He said unless top company officials, or federal or state inspectors are coming to the mines “You don’t do nothing but mine coal.” He said outside of the presence of inspectors, safety measures are completely off the table underground at Massey.

“If that production report says 400 foot that they ran that day, they broke the law,” he said. “It’s real hard to mine 400 foot in a nine-hour shift without breaking the law.”

He said while he worked in Massey mines he was told to “break the law all the time.” Quarles also said he received prior warning of inspection visits, and he and his crews were ordered to address safety concerns.

“We would shut the section down, get all of our curtains right and go from there,” he said.

Quarles described his son as “awesome, unbelievable really.” He said his 33-year-old son’s death was practically the end of his own life.

“I just can’t make myself say I want to go back underground in the mines,” he said. “I don’t feel like doing nothing. I just don’t got it in me. It’s like it’s been sucked  right out of me. My life is gone. I have no desire to do nothing. Me and him hunted. He fished all the time. He never left home, he lived right beside of us. He was always there, and he’s gone. It’s just like my life is gone too.”

Quarles said the $3 million settlement Massey offered to families of the victims was inappropriate.

“I don’t think they should have put a value on none of those people,” he said. “I didn’t at the time, and I still don’t. They shouldn’t never put a price on anybody that was dead there.”

He asked how Massey executives would feel if someone put a price tag on one of their own children.

“What if someone said they were worth $500, $5 million, whatever amount,” he said. “There is no amount that they should put.”

Quarles said he wants Massey to admit fault in the explosion. He said it has been “a bad situation” and expressed frustration that more criminal charges were not leveled against higher-level Massey employees.

Quarles isn’t the only family member of the victims who believes Massey is at fault. Alice Peters said she had considered Massey was to blame before, and Thursday’s report removed much of her doubt.

“Massey was hiding something, and I think they were at fault,” she said.

She said her son-in-law, Edward Dean Jones, 50, who died in the explosion, was threatened with the loss of his job if he reported low levels of fresh air. With a child with cystic fibrosis, Peters said her son-in-law was afraid blowing the whistle on Massey would cost him too much.

— E-mail: tkuykendall@register-herald.com

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