A coal miner died in an accident at a Logan County mine Monday, marking West Virginia’s sixth fatal mining accident of 2021.
Brian Wallen, 49, was fatally injured at the Mingo Logan Coal Company’s Mountain Laurel Mine in Sharples, the Governor’s Office announced Monday night.
An underground mining vehicle wreck caused Wallen’s death, according to a West Virginia Emergency Management Division incident report. The wreck occurred around 5:15 p.m., according to the report. Onsite workers attempted to stabilize Wallen to bring him to the surface for emergency medical service inspection, but Wallen was not breathing at the time of the 911 call, per the report.
Wallen was an assistant chief electrician at the mine with 25 years of experience, according to the Governor’s Office. In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Mingo Logan Coal Company said Wallen had worked as an electrician at Mountain Laurel since August 2020.
Wallen is survived by a wife and three children, the company said.
Wallen was traveling down a slope travel way on a rubber-tire electric mine utility vehicle when the vehicle crashed, according to the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. The office said the cause of the crash is under investigation.
West Virginia’s six fatal mining accidents in 2021 mark the most the state has had in any year since 2017, when it suffered eight, according to state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training data. There have been 27 fatal mining accidents since the start of 2016, per state data.
Mountain Laurel Mine General Manager Cory Chafin said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the company is working with federal and state regulatory authorities to investigate the cause of the accident and identify needed precautions to ensure that such an incident never happens again. Chafin added the company is focusing on supporting Wallen’s family.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic event,” Chafin said. “On behalf of the entire Mountain Laurel team, I want to extend our very deepest sympathies to Brian’s family, friends and co-workers.”
“We should never take for granted the strength and the courage of those who go underground to do the incredibly important work that it takes to power our communities, our state, and our nation with coal for electricity generation and for steel making,” Gov. Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice said in a news release announcing Wallen’s death. “Our hearts ache for this brave man, his family, and the entire coal mining community for this terrible loss.”
Coal companies controlled by Justice have racked up thousands of mine violations.
Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors found 2,297 violations at Justice family-owned mines in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia over a five-year period ending in May 2019, according to the initial complaint in a 2019 lawsuit by the feds seeking $4.7 million.
Nearly two dozen of the family’s companies agreed to pay roughly that amount to settle a federal lawsuit claiming they failed to pay mine safety fines.
Justice-controlled mines received nine citations for conditions unsanitary enough they could have contributed to coronavirus from March through December 2020, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration data. The citations composed nearly a fourth of all those issued in West Virginia during that span.