The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 30, 2012

1 dead after Alpha mining accident in W.Va.

Worker killed early Friday at a Greenbrier County coal mine

West Virginia mine safety officials say a 27-year-old worker was killed early Friday in an accident at a Greenbrier County coal mine owned by a subsidiary of Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources.

It happened around 1:30 a.m. at the Pocahontas Mine A White Buck Portal near Rupert, said Leslie Fitzwater of the state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.

Alpha identified the victim as Steven O’Dell of Mount Nebo, an employee of its Alex Energy subsidiary who was working as an electrician at the Pocahontas Mine.

“We are all saddened by the loss of a talented colleague and friend,” said Alex Energy President Craig Boggs.

State officials say O’Dell had three years of mining experience — two and a half at the Rupert mine.

Odell was caught between a scoop and a continuous mining machine, Fitzwater said. He was later pronounced dead at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Ronceverte.

It’s the state’s sixth mining fatality this year.

The last death at the White Buck mine in Greenbrier County was on July 1, 2010, when 60-year-old electrician Wilbert Ray Starcher was run over by a piece of heavy equipment.

A federal Mine Safety and Health Administration accident report found the driver couldn’t see Starcher because someone had welded a piece of metal onto the vehicle that obscured his vision. The report says the mine’s owner at the time, Massey Energy, later removed the obstruction and trained miners to notify equipment operators before walking on the mine’s haulage road.

Alpha later bought Massey for $7.1 billion. It didn’t immediately comment on the latest accident.

The mine is owned by White Buck Coal Co., an Alpha subsidiary that made news earlier this week when a former president, David C. Hughart, was charged with criminal conspiracy.

Hughart is cooperating with federal prosecutors in their continuing investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, an April 2010 explosion at another former Massey operation that killed 29 men. It was the worst U.S. mining disaster in four decades.

Prosecutors say Hughart worked with unnamed co-conspirators to ensure miners at White Buck and other, unidentified Massey-owned operations got advance warning about surprise federal inspections many times between 2000 and March 2010.

Those illegal warnings allegedly gave workers time to conceal life-threatening violations that could have led to citations, fines and costly shutdowns.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Hughart is prepared to plead guilty to the charges, which carry the possibility of six years in prison. No hearing dates have been scheduled.

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