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Fines against coal company anger families of miners

Saturday, June 28, 2003

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Federal regulators fined a coal company about $8,000 for 18 safety violations found after a mine explosion killed 13 men, a penalty relatives said was too low.

Jim Walter Resources Inc., which operates the mine, could have been fined nearly $1 million for the violations. Authorities said Friday the penalty was reduced to $8,335 because investigators determined the violations didn't contribute to the miners' deaths.

"It's a slap in the face to our husbands," said Kathy Ashworth, who lost her husband, Raymond, in the accident at the Blue Creek No. 5 mine.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration last year issued more than two dozen citations against the Tampa, Fla.-based company after an investigation into the deadly accident on Sept. 23, 2001.

Of those citations, eight were for violations the government said contributed to the miners' deaths. The company was assessed $435,000 in fines for those violations on Wednesday. Relatives of the victims also said that amount was inadequate.

MSHA spokesman Rodney Brown said the remaining 18 citations carried a maximum fine of $55,000 each, or $990,000 total.

Kyle Parks, a spokesman for Jim Walter Resources, said all the fines will be appealed. The company disagreed with the government's findings, he said, and was trying to get a "true picture" of what caused the miners' deaths.

"We are not trying to get out of anything. We are not trying to avoid responsibility," Parks said.

In 2001, underground explosions tore through the mine. Most of the victims were trying to help four co-workers hurt in the initial blast, which was triggered by a roof collapse.

The government blamed the deaths on "high negligence" by Jim Walter Resources, but the company called the explosions a tragic accident. The mine has reopened and now employs about 380 people in Brookwood, located west of Birmingham.


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