UBB victim's sister: ''This is a crime'' (video)
BECKLEY, W.Va. -- When Shirley Whitt left the Thursday meeting about the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, she said she was sad, but not angry.
During the meeting, she and other family members of the 29 miners who died in the April 2010 disaster were briefed about an independent investigation into the cause of the devastating blast.
She said she was trying to keep an open mind at the start of the meeting and had not already decided who was at fault.
"But based on the information we received today, in my mind, this was definitely something that Massey could have controlled, and I don't think the boardroom of Massey should be making decisions that affect the safety of the miners," she said after the meeting. "I think this is a crime."
Later in the day, when she'd had time to read part of the report, she reconsidered how she felt about what happened.
"It does make you angry, how they treated the people that reported it. ... I guess I feel that now. You'd have to be an idiot not to see that Massey was involved," she said.
Roosevelt Lynch, son of UBB victim William Roosevelt Lynch, was the first to step away from the meeting at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, readying for an early departure.
He said he felt the investigating team -- led by longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer -- did a pretty good job and he's satisfied.
"I'm a coal miner; I know what goes on. I don't know who did their job right or who did their job wrong," he said.
"I'm glad I made it out of there before I got to crying," he said with tears in his eyes.
Asked if he will reconsider his job choice, he said: "No, I've got to work. I've got a family to take care of."
Other family members began leaving the meeting shortly after noon.
Jason Mullins, whose father Rex Mullins died at UBB, said, "This is pretty much what we suspected all along: that Massey operated their mines in a very bad way.
"They knew about the ventilation before. They knew about the water. They knew about the shearer having problems... and they did nothing to fix any of the problems.
"I [know] that Massey didn't go in and set a bomb off, but they basically murdered my dad," he said later.
Jason Mullins' uncle, Yancy Mullins, who also attended today's meeting, said there can be no closure until "somebody is held accountable... I mean, every day I think about my brother, not a day's went by yet."
Yancy said he believes the men at Upper Big Branch were scared for their jobs because they knew that if they spoke out they might get dismissed.
"They need some representation and right now is the time for the UMWA to come back to the mines and get a voice for the men," he said. "This wouldn't have happened if it was a union mine."
He turned to Jason and said: "It was all about production."
Jason responded: "Push coal or go home."
The report shows that Massey knew the conditions the men were working in and they disregarded that, said Clay Mullins, who was also brother to Rex. He said that if Rex were alive today, he would be standing beside him, speaking about how miners need more protection.
"We don't want to see any other families go through what we're going through," he said. "This was 29 lives that was wasted."
Page 59 of the 120 page report tells of Shirley Whitt's brother Boone Payne, a "man's man" whom his fiancé Bobbie Pauley describes as someone who "said what he meant and meant what he said."
That included saying what he meant to Chris Blanchard, Performance Coal Co.'s president, who was in charge of the mine. Payne talked with Blanchard about the fact that there wasn't enough air flowing through the mine, according to the report. Other miners are also detailed as having discussed problems in the mine with Blanchard.
"They're just trying anything, Bobbie," Payne told Pauley, according to the report. "They don't know what they're doing."
Blanchard and at least 17 other Massey officials refused to talk to investigators for the report, asserting their Fifth Amendment rights.
Whitt said Payne told their dad about air problems at the mine, too. She said she would like to sit down with Blanchard and ask him why things were run the way they were run.
"I'm sure that they knew it," Whitt said of the mine's officials. "I think there should be punishment for people like Chris Blanchard, who treated those people like coal was more important than their lives. ... I would love to see those people go to jail."
Reach Gary Harki at email@example.com or 304-348-5163.