A worker at one of Gov. Jim Justice’s coal companies was killed Monday night when he fell at a McDowell County preparation plant, officials have confirmed.
Jason Kenneth Matthews, 43, of Bluefield, Virginia, was killed in the incident, which Southern Coal Corp. said occurred at about 10:25 p.m. Monday at its Bishop Preparation Plant near Squire.
“The exact cause of the accident is still not known,” Southern’s vice president of health and safety, Patrick C. Graham, said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday morning. “Both Southern Coal and the mining agencies have people on site to determine the cause of this terrible accident.”
Graham added, “Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of this dedicated miner and team member. They will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration website listed the death as a “slip or fall of a person” at a facility called the “Bishop Impoundment Area,” operated by Chestnut Land Holdings LLC. Other details were not immediately available from either MSHA or the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training.
A report from the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management indicated that the incident was reported to the state’s mine emergency call center by the McDowell County 911 office.
McDowell County Sheriff Martin West said Tuesday that one of his deputies responded to a call that a miner at the preparation plant had “fallen into a coal bin and was seriously injured.” Shortly after that call, local officials were told the miner had died.
West said his office was told the miner was attempting to make repairs inside the preparation plant when he fell onto a conveyor belt line, and then fell 20 feet from the belt line into a coal chute.
On its website, MSHA listed the controller of the preparation plant operation as James C. Justice II, who is the governor. The Secretary of State’s office listed two managers of Chestnut Land Holdings LLC: Gov. Justice’s son, Jay Justice, and the governor’s daughter, Jill Justice. Chestnut Land Holdings is also listed as one of the governor’s companies on the financial disclosure form he filed with the state Ethics Commission.
The homeland security report listed the preparation plant as having a state mine safety permit number issued to another company, Justice Low Seam Mining, for a facility called “JC Jim Justice II PP.”
Justice and his office have said that the governor was handing over day-to-day control of his coal holdings to his son and his hospitality businesses, including The Greenbrier, to his daughter.
Butch Antolini, the governor’s communications director, issued a statement from the governor that said, “My heart is heavy with the sad news out of Squire. Cathy and I ask all West Virginians to join us in praying for the lost coal miner and his family. Tragic accidents like this just break all of our hearts and our state is grateful to have a close-knit mining community that steps up on these most difficult days.”
The office of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also issued a statement on Manchin’s behalf that said, “Gayle and I were deeply saddened to hear of the tragic passing of a coal miner in McDowell County. As a West Virginian, the loss of a coal miner is always heartbreaking. We join all West Virginians in sending our thoughts and prayers to the family and loved ones of the lost coal miner.”
The incident is the third coal-mining fatality in the U.S. so far in 2017 and the second in West Virginia, according to MSHA.