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Coal miner struck, killed by board at Harrison mine

The 19th coal miner to die on the job in West Virginia was killed Wednesday while operating a piece of equipment in an International Coal Group mine in Harrison County.

The state was notified about 2:40 p.m. of the accident at the Sycamore No. 2 mine near Jarvisville, Terry Farley, head of the state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training, told The Associated Press. Wolf Run Mining Co., a subsidiary of ICG, owns the mine.

Todd Upton, an underground scoop operator, was apparently “struck by a wooden board and suffered fatal head injuries,” according to a prepared release from ICG Vice President Charles Snavely. Upton, who had worked for Wolf Run since October, was pronounced dead at the mine, according to the statement.

No more details were immediately available Wednesday evening, and Upton’s age and hometown weren’t immediately known.

Last month, the Sycamore No. 2 Mine was cited five times by federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors for “unwarrantable failure” to comply with safety rules, among the most serious enforcement actions that federal officials can take against a coal operator.

So far in 2006, West Virginia leads the nation in coal mining deaths with 19 miners killed on the job, including 12 at the Sago Mine disaster and two in the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine fire in Logan County.

Eleven miners have been killed in Kentucky, including the five who died on Saturday in the Darby Mine disaster and another who was killed Tuesday in Breathitt County.

Less than five months into the year, 2006 has seen 33 coal miner deaths in the United States, the most in any year since 2001, when 42 miners died.

“This has been a very difficult year for mining families in West Virginia and throughout our nation,” Gov. Joe Manchin said in a statement. “Tonight, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the miner who lost his life”

Manchin said state mine safety officials would work aggressively and thoroughly to determine the cause of the accident.

Randal McCloy Jr., the only miner who survived the Sago disaster, and his wife Anna were aware of the accident, but did not have any comment other than urging people to keep Upton’s family in their thoughts and prayers, family spokeswoman Aly Goodwin Gregg said.

After Wednesday’s accident, the company contacted the Harrison County Bureau of Emergency Services, which contacted state officials, said Caryn Gresham, a spokeswoman with the state mine safety office. That complied with new regulations for companies to notify state officials after an accident.

State mine inspectors were on the scene and an administrator from Charleston was headed to the mine to provide additional support, she said.

The Sycamore mine is about 56 miles from the Sago Mine in Upshur County. Some of the Sago miners were sent to work at Sycamore after the Jan. 2 explosion shut down that mine.

Last year, the Sycamore No. 2 Mine had a non-fatal injury rate of 7.41 accidents per 200,000 hours worked, compared to the national average of 5.17for similar mines, according to MSHA data.

In its most recent inspection of Sycamore No. 2, which began April 17 and was not yet completed, MSHA inspectors issued 17 citations for alleged violations of federal health and safety regulations.

Also, MSHA inspectors last month issued five orders that alleged “unwarrantable failure” by the mine to comply with federal safety regulations. To issue such orders, MSHA inspectors must determine that the mine management has “engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence.”

Two of the five orders concerned alleged failure to conduct proper pre-shift safety examinations, a violation that was also cited repeatedly at the Sago Mine and prompted the criminal prosecution of one former Sago foreman.

The other three Sycamore violations concerned alleged failure to control the accumulation of combustible materials underground, according to MSHA records.

The Sycamore No. 2 Mine is part of ICG’s Harrison Division and is located about 10 miles west of Clarksburg. The mine began operating during the second quarter of 2005 and is expected to have an annual minimum production of about 250,000 tons of coal, according to corporate disclosures filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

When ICG announced its acquisitions of Anker Coal Group and CoalQuest Development LLC in April 2005, Sycamore No. 2 was expected to produce 1.2 million tons of steam coal a year by this year, according to a news release.

Last year, the mine produced about 69,000 tons of coal with 38 workers, according to company records submitted to MSHA.

The coal produced at Sycamore No. 2 is sold to Allegheny Power Service Corp.’s Harrison Power Station, and is shipped by truck to the power plant, the SEC documents show.

ICG controls 916 million tons of coal reserves and has 11 mining complexes in Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Illinois.

New York billionaire Wilbur Ross, who made a fortune buying and selling bankrupt steel mills and other struggling companies, formed ICG in 2004 from bankrupt Horizon Natural Resources Co., once the nation’s fourth largest coal company.

ICG President Ben Hatfield has said the company’s total production could hit 24 million tons by 2007, with two new underground mines near Beckley and Grafton expected to contribute to those numbers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. To contact staff writers Ken Ward or Dave Gustafson, use e-mail or call 348-5100.


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