By Carl “Butch” Antolini
Clay Mullins was calling off from work at a nearby coal mine on April 5, 2010, when he learned from his boss that there had been an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine.
Mullins quickly got in his vehicle, stopped at his mother’s house to pick up his nephew Jason, and started to make his way toward Montcoal — hoping to pass his brother Rex, who he knew was working at UBB that day, along the way.
And in the following hours and days ahead, Mullins came to the realization that his brother and 28 others weren’t coming out alive.
Mullins never returned to the work of coal mining after that.
In Beckley for Friday’s dedication of a memorial marker for those lost and injured at UBB three years ago, Mullins says he still frequently thinks about that fateful day.
“Not every day but I relive it quite often,” he said. “It’s hard. I miss my brother, I miss all those men. I worked there for years with those men. I knew all of them except for two. They were my family, they were my brothers. It devastated me.”
Mullins has been outspoken since the tragedy and has testified at many government hearings focused on the disaster. And while he believes coal mining is safer today, he says there are still mine operators who don’t toe the regulatory line.
“I would say yes it is safer because this has put a spark under MSHA and the state, and the mine operators,” Mullins said. “But I still feel that laws are being broken and men’s lives are being put at risk. I think we need more legislation, more laws, stronger laws.”
As he has in the past, Mullins also pointed directly at former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship as being the person ultimately responsible for what took place at UBB.
“There needs to be penalties for these operators that come in, like Don Blankenship. Don Blankenship came into Coal River and he thought he was above the law. He probably thinks that he is still above the law today because the law has not touched him. I think it’s time for us to change that.”
Mullins said he wants to see prosecutors get tougher, and judges to issue stiffer sentences. It’s the only way be believes justice will be served.
“I know there is still an ongoing investigation, but we need results, we need to see what’s going on. I’m sick and tired of these little slaps on the wrist, these guys getting 18 months or two years.
“They took 29 lives, that’s 29 murders in my book.”
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