CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At about 11 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2008, Steven Cain was about an hour away from ending his shift deep inside Massey Energy's Justice No. 1 Mine in Boone County.
Cain and other miners were hauling a load of supplies -- conveyor belt parts, cinder blocks and plastic pipe -- on an underground mine train.
But the supply cars were overloaded. A high-voltage cable was hanging low, blocking the train's route. And the supply crew needed to navigate a tight turn in a narrow mine tunnel.
Cain got off the train, squeezed himself into that corner, and held the energized power cable over his head so the supply train could pass under.
As the train rounded the bend, the overloaded supplies pressed too close to the mine wall. Cain was caught between a supply car and the wall, or rib. He was crushed to death.
Federal inspectors found that Cain had "little mining experience" and "minimal training," and criticized Massey for overloading the supply cars.
"Adequate clearance was not provided," said the June 2009 report signed by Robert Hardman, district manager of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's Southern West Virginia office. "The supplies also hindered the motor operator's visibility."
Despite those problems, MSHA didn't fine Massey or its subsidiary, Independence Coal Co., a cent. Instead, MSHA inspectors issued "safeguard orders" that require improved practices, but carry no monetary penalties.
Last month, Massey settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Cain's family, agreeing to pay $2.1 million to make the case go away, according to public records on file in Boone Circuit Court.
In the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, top federal officials -- from President Obama to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and MSHA chief Joe Main -- have blasted the non-union, Richmond, Va.-based company as a renegade mine operator that won't follow the rules and puts coal production over profits.
Just last week, Main's old boss, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, said in a congressional hearing that "shortcomings in existing laws" have made it hard for MSHA to protect miners at Massey's operations.
"Clearly, the status quo isn't good enough," Roberts told a House committee. "MSHA's efforts have failed to motivate at least some operators, like Massey, to do what is necessary to operate their mines safely each and every day."
Massey CEO Don Blankenship has vigorously defended his company's record and practices.
"Massey does not place profits over safety," Blankenship told a Senate committee in late May. "We never have, and we never will."
But a look back at Steven Cain's death provides more details about Massey's troubled safety record, including new concerns from former Massey miners about practices at the coal giant's mines.
At the same time, Cain's death raises questions about whether MSHA always takes strong enough enforcement action against Massey, even in a case where serious safety problems led to the death of a miner.
'Unwarrantable failure to comply'
Massey's Justice No. 1 Mine is a large operation, located near Uneeda. From 1999 to 2003, the mine produced an average of 2.5 million tons of coal a year, with about 130 workers.
Even back then, long before Cain's death, Justice No. 1 had its share of safety problems.
On Oct. 30, 2000, shuttle car operator Ricky Dale Vance was killed when a 7-foot-by-4-foot piece of rock from the mine roof fell on him.
Federal inspectors found that Massey mine management did not comply with their approved roof-control plan. Roof bolts were spaced too far apart, and inspectors issued three enforcement orders alleging "unwarrantable failure to comply" with safety regulations.
MSHA fined the company $55,000 for each of the three orders -- among the highest penalties then allowed by law -- but then settled the case for $37,500, a reduction of more than 77 percent.
On Jan. 2, 2002, continuous miner operator Danny Adkins was killed when a similarly sized piece of mine roof fell on him at Justice No. 1.
Federal investigators ruled that Adkins had accidentally sheared off parts of several key roof bolts, but that Massey management was to blame for not installing reflectors that would have helped Adkins position himself safely underground.
MSHA issued two "serious and substantial" citations, but fined Massey only $1,595 for each one. The company paid the $3,190.
'A beloved husband, father, son and brother'
Steven Cain was just 32 when he died. He had a wife, Becky. Their son Izek was 6 when his father died. Their daughter Megan was 3.
An obituary said Cain was a member of the Peytona Baptist Church and a former Eagle Scout. "He was a beloved husband, father, son and brother, and will be missed by his entire family, including aunts, uncles, cousins and many friends," the notice said.