Year opens with 2 more deaths in the mines

CUCUMBER, W.Va. — James “Butch” Thomas, 47, and Pete Poindexter, 33, were working a mile and half inside the Brooks Run Company’s Cucumber mine, Jan. 13, when the roof collapsed, killing both miners.

There were 35 miners working inside at the time of the collapse. There were no other fatalities or injuries.

It took three and a half hours to recover the men’s bodies because “they had to be careful doing that work [recovery] because of the roof fall and the roof conditions,” said Caryn Gresham, spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training.

Families, miners and neighbors filled the Faith Tabernacle Church in Crumpler. Many brought food. The Rev. Allen Click and Laura Click, his wife, regularly provide food for those attending services. Five and half hours after the incident, company officials made the announcement about the fatalities to the families and friends gathered at the church.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports that the Cucumber mine reported double the national average for injuries in 2006. MSHA cited the company, whose parent corporation is Abingdon, Va.-based Alpha Natural Resources, for 65 safety violations, levying $5,051 in fines, which the company paid. Thirty-two violations occurred during the last six months of 2006, and six were roof security and control problems.

In 2006, 90 miners worked at the mine, producing 375,000 tons of coal worth $15.7 million.