MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Gas drillers who plowed through a cemetery for a historically black coal camp community in 2004 were ordered to pay $200,000 in punitive damages Wednesday, on top of the $700,000 in compensatory damages a Logan County jury awarded a day earlier.
Jurors ruled Tuesday that Equitable Production Co. and subcontractor General Pipeline were reckless when a bulldozer operator desecrated the Crystal Block Cemetery near Sarah Ann. Equitable is a subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based EQT, which called the incident in southern West Virginia "a regrettable situation for everyone involved."
"We want to assure the families that the gravesites were not willfully or purposely desecrated," said spokeswoman Linda Robertson. "EQT employees were not directly involved in this incident and, in fact, EQT did not receive notification of the incident for more than one week after it had occurred."
The plaintiffs' attorney, meanwhile, said the verdicts showed the civil justice system works.
"This jury has found that Equitable's reckless treatment of mountain cemeteries will not go unpunished," said attorney Kevin Thompson.
"Everyone told us that we had no chance of winning this trial in Logan County," he said. "Fourteen African-Americans standing up against a gas company in Logan County just shows the power of our jury system, and why we must protect it."
Former state Supreme Court Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, sitting as a senior status judge, oversaw the trial in Logan.
General Pipeline shoved aside head stones and metal markers while building a road to a drilling site, but it had argued that it was an "innocent and unknowing entry."