But criminal charges in the case focused on violations that could have hampered miners trying to evacuate the mine after the fire had started.
Aracoma Coal's 10-count plea deal included a misdemeanor -- failing to replace a ventilation wall that could have kept smoke out of the escapeway -- that prosecutors said, "resulted in the deaths" of Hatfield and Bragg.
But so far, prosecutors have not directly linked any of the foremen's crimes to the fatal fire. Court records show that Hagy and Shadd failed to conduct evacuation drills during the period from May 2005 to July 2005, while the period covered by the charges against Plumley and Ellis ran from October 2005 through Jan. 19, 2006, the day of the fatal fire.
Prosecutors revealed Tuesday that plea deals with Ellis and Plumley were reached more than a year ago, in February and April 2009, respectively. Deals with Hagy and Shadd were reached in May, prosecutors said.
During Tuesday's hearing, Copenhaver quizzed each of the foremen about their behavior, asking for an explanation for why they didn't conduct the escapeway drills.
Hagy said he simply "overlooked it."
Plumley said he performed the part of the drill where miners could ride out of the mine, but did not make his crew complete the evacuation by walking the rest of the way out.
Smith said that records show Plumley signed three false entries in the evacuation record book, one every month from November 2005 through January 2006. One of the false entries identified by Smith was for Jan. 7, 2006. That's the same date of a false evacuation record book entry that prompted the one felony count included in Aracoma Coal Co.'s plea agreement.
Ellis indicated he was pressured by his superiors to falsify the record book.
"They tell you to 'catch up your books' or something like that, [because] 'we've got somebody coming to look at them,'" Ellis told Copenhaver.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has said charges against the four foremen end his office's investigation of the Aracoma fire.
Sentencing for the four men is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 26.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.