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UBB family members want justice, not money

BEAVER -- Family members of the 29 miners killed in the worst mining disaster in the United States in nearly 40 years say they want justice more than money.

"You can't put a dollar amount on my husband. I want to see who is going to be indicted next," said Gina Jones, 39, of Beckley. "I was there when they found [Hughie Elbert] Stover guilty and I'll be there for the next."

Family members gathered Tuesday at MSHA's training academy to be briefed on the agency's final report on the disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine in April 2010 that killed 29 miners and severely injured two others. They were also advised that officials have agreed to accept $200 million in fines, victim restitution and mine safety improvements to settle enforcement actions and some criminal matters. However, some individuals may still face criminal prosecution.

Hughie Elbert Stover, a former Raleigh County deputy and longtime security director at Upper Big Branch, was found guilty of two felony counts of making a false statement and trying to cover up records in a federal investigation.

"We want those responsible all taken away from their families like what has happened to us," said Jones, whose husband Edward Dean Jones was killed in the explosion.

Other family members echoed her sentiments.

"It's just beginning. We've only just gotten the information, the future is ahead and this isn't ending anytime soon," said Judy Jones Petersen of Charleston. Edward Dean Jones, who had worked in the Performance Coal Company mine for 14 years, was her brother.

Family members were told that Alpha Natural Resources would pay the $200 million in fines, victim restitution and mine safety improvements. Last June, Alpha bought Massey Energy's assets, which included the Performance Coal mine where the disaster occurred.

"That amount of money is meaningless to a multi-million-dollar organization," Jones Petersen said. "It's an embarrassment for MSHA and the Department of Labor. Nobody finds that to be acceptable. They should be automatically shut down."

Edward Dean Jones' twin brother, Gene Jones, 51, of Charleston, said he finds it particularly disturbing that officials have found the explosion could have been prevented.

"It's shameful the things that went on ... we had no idea it was that bad," Gene Jones said. "My brother came out in pieces."

Philip Cash, 40, of Elkview, who lost his father-in-law, said the law needs to be changed to allow officials to impose fines that are "enough to make them hurt."

Two sisters who lost their 32-year-old brother, Dillard Persinger, in the mining disaster say they do not expect to find closure from the report.

"There's never any closure," said Rita Stover, 29, of Crab Orchard. "The truth ain't out, it's still covered under lies."

Janet Reed, 42, of Crab Orchard, is Rita's sister. She found little comfort in the settlement amount that Alpha agreed to pay.

"Instead of a payout, [criminal prosecution] is what needs to be done," Reed said.

Rita Stover said she believes former Massey CEO Don Blankenship should be prosecuted.

"He's getting off," she said. "He got to retire. ... He's just as guilty as anybody else. He had to know what was going on."

Both sisters' husbands currently work in the mines.

"I'm for coal, but they need to make the mines safer," Reed said. "It's the only thing to do around here if you don't go to college."

Gina Jones said she doesn't believe anything has changed.

 "There's no difference between Alpha and Massey, they're still doing the same things Massey was doing," Jones said. "They can say they're running right, but they're going to run the Massey way."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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