W.Va. ICG chief led firm that suffered 2 deaths in 5 weeks
International Coal Group’s top executive in West Virginia previously was president of a company that saw two miners die in a five-week period in 2004, records show.
In April, Samuel R. Kitts was named ICG’s senior vice president for operations in West Virginia and Maryland.
Before that, Kitts spent three years as president of Brooks Run Mining Co., according to ICG statements and government records.
Between March 2 and April 3, 2004, two workers died at Brooks Run operations in Webster County.
After both of those deaths, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Brooks Run for serious safety violations that MSHA inspectors said contributed to the accidents, records show.
On Monday, Kitts issued a statement that attributed each of the fatalities to a “tragic choice” by each of the miners who died.
In one accident, Kerry Holliday, a 50-year-old maintenance foreman from Smoot, was killed on March 2, 2004, at the Brooks Run Processing Plant near Cowen.
Holliday was overseeing contract employees from a company called Black Thunder Inc. The crew was rebuilding a coal feeder at the preparation plant.
A bank of coal above the feeder collapsed onto Holliday, burying him face-down under 3 feet of coal, according to an MSHA report.
In its report, MSHA found that Brooks Run Mining had not adequately trained its employees about the hazards of working near steep coal piles or conducted proper examinations of the coal piles where Holliday was working before the accident occurred.
MSHA cited the company for five violations, including one for “unwarrantable failure” to comply with safety rules. MSHA fined Brooks Run Mining $88,300. The company is challenging the MSHA fines.
In the other accident, William Brady, a 47-year-old continuous mining machine operator, was pinned between his continuous mining machine and the mine wall.
After its investigation, MSHA concluded that the accident occurred because Brady was in an unsafe position, between the mining machine and the mine wall.
MSHA cited Brooks Run Mining for a serious violation, stating that Brady’s position violated the mine’s approved roof control plan.
Brooks Run paid the $1,760 fine that MSHA assessed, records show.
Since the deaths of 12 miners two weeks ago in an explosion at ICG’s Sago Mine in Upshur County, the company’s safety record has come under intense scrutiny.
In both of its reports on the Brooks Run fatalities, MSHA listed Sam Kitts as the top company official.
Sam Kitts is the younger brother of Gene Kitts, who is ICG’s senior vice president for mining services and was one of the company officials to brief the press following the Sago explosion.
Both of the Kitts brothers are former executives of Massey Energy, the former A.T. Massey Coal Co., or one of Massey’s operating subsidiaries.
Ben Hatfield, president and chief executive officer of ICG, is also a former Massey official. So is Ben Hatfield’s twin brother. Dennis Hatfield was president of Massey’s Martin County Coal Co. when that company’s slurry impoundment near Inez, Ky., failed in October 2000.
Roger Nicholson, ICG’s senior vice president and general counsel, is also a former Massey executive.
When it purchased part of the holdings of Horizon Natural Resources out of bankruptcy in 2004, ICG did so through a joint bid with Massey, according to court records.
On Monday, Kitts declined a request for an interview made through Dix & Eaton, a Cleveland-based public relations firm handling Sago media calls.
Instead, Dix & Eaton released a short statement from Kitts about his work at Brooks Run Mining.
Kitts said that he joined the company in March 2002 and that the following year, Brooks Run “enjoyed the best safety performance of its 20-year history.”
Regarding the two 2004 fatalities, Kitts said, “In each case, a skilled miner with more than 20 years experience made a tragic choice in his normal duties that resulted in his death.”
Kitts said that the company investigation of the two accidents “resulted in creation of an initiative called ‘Safe Choices,’ which was aimed directly at influencing the behavior of individual coal miners.”
“The result of implementing the program was a dramatic reduction in accidents that continues to the present time,” Kitts said in the statement.
Kitts said he presented information about the program to MSHA and to the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training.
In July, MSHA launched a similar program, called “Make the Right Decision.” The agency said it is intended to help “miners and mine operators focus on human factors, such as decision-making, when at work.”