By Vicki Smith
The Associated Press
Regulators are investigating the death of a veteran miner at a Patriot Coal subsidiary in southern West Virginia, the state’s fifth mining-related fatality so far this year.
Asa Fitzpatrick, 63, of Kermit died at Newtown Energy’s Peerless Rachel Mine in Boone County, the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training said Thursday. Rock fell on Fitzpatrick as he prepared to install a roof bolt Wednesday evening, spokeswoman Leslie Fitzwater said.
Fitzpatrick had 40 years of coal mining experience.
His death is the seventh coal mining fatality nationwide this year, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, and the first in West Virginia since Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin urged a statewide time-out for safety talks last month.
Fitzpatrick died at the same mine that state mine safety director Eugene White visited on Feb. 20, the day the so-called “stand down” began.
White told The Associated Press he visited the Peerless mine because it was on his way home and met with both the day shift, which was brought out early, and the evening shift, before they went underground.
“It hurts,” he said Thursday. “It’s frustrating.”
White said he met with workers in the bath house and talked about the importance of being vigilant to hazards.
“It was very well-received. They participated. They listened. They didn’t joke and laugh and talk,” he said. “It was pretty humbling that day.”
Despite his frustration, White said he remains “100 percent supportive” of the stand-down.
“We’ve got to communicate to these coal miners. There’s a lot of regulations and rules there to protect them,” he said, “but we’ve got to keep talking to them.”
White said he went underground to see the accident site for himself Wednesday night.
St. Louis-based Patriot issued a statement expressing sympathy to Fitzpatrick’s family and friends. Executive Vice President for Operations Michael May said Patriot is cooperating with the state and federal investigations. Friday, officials will do a re-enactment of the accident as part of the investigation.
The mine near Comfort employs about 130 workers.