Crandall Canyon Mine operators charged with violations before collapse that killed 9
SALT LAKE CITY — The widow of a Crandall Canyon Mine rescuer killed in a 2007 collapse reacted angrily Friday to news that the mine operator was charged criminally on Friday, but not directly for actions that led to the deaths of the nine men.
"It doesn't surprise me at all," said Wendy Black of Huntington. "The whole system has failed these men."
Black's husband, Dale, was one of three men killed Aug. 16, 2007, while trying to rescue six miners trapped in a collapse of the mine 10 days earlier.
On Friday, the operator of the Crandall Canyon Mine — Genwall Resources — was charged in federal court with two misdemeanors for willful violations of federal mining laws and will pay a fine of $500,000.
The announcement brings to a near conclusion the criminal case arising from an exhaustive investigation into the tragedy more than three and a half years after it was first referred to federal prosecutors in Utah.
U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow said Genwal Resources, operator of the Crandall Canyon Mine, will plead guilty to the twin offenses and be sentenced March 14, pending a judge's review of the arrangement.
Barlow said the charges are "serious" and should put mining companies on notice.
"We recognize that nothing we can do will ever bring back the miners who perished, restore the health of those who were injured during the rescue, or erase the nightmares that still haunt those who were firsthand witnesses to these tragedies," Barlow said in a statement. "It is this office's intent that these charges send the message to mining companies everywhere: obey the safety laws."
The Crandall Canyon Mine near Huntington collapsed Aug. 6, 2007, entombing six miners: Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Arturo "Manuel" Sanchez.
The collapse of the mine's walls 1,800 feet underground happened with such force it registered as a 4.2-magnitude seismic event.
Fears of the mine's stability stymied early rescue attempts and were later born out in the second collapse that killed three would-be rescuers 10 days later. In addition to the fatalities of Black, Gary Jensen and Brandon Kimber, six other rescuers suffered serious injuries.
Prosecutors on Friday did stress that the charges filed do not directly relate to the fatal mine collapses but instead stem from earlier activities at the mine.
Barlow said there was "insufficient criminal evidence" that the actions taken by individuals or the mining company itself directly led to the deaths of the miners or their rescuers.
While he conceded that conclusion may be a source of frustration for families, Barlow said his office is obligated to pursue cases where the evidence at hand can bring a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
"This was a terrible, terrible tragedy," he said, adding it was his office's hope that this resolution in the case will represent "another step in the healing process."
Black said if federal regulators who shirked their duty in the oversight of the mine couldn't be held accountable, it isn't any wonder to her that top Genwall officials aren't going to face any criminal violations.
"Who holds anyone accountable for any of these mistakes? No one."
Attorney Alan Mortensen spoke on behalf of the families after the announcement and said he believed prosecutors did an excellent job, even in the shadow of disappointment that no one individual will be held criminally responsible.
"I believe there will be mixed reactions," he said, adding that charges speak to a willful disregard of laws meant to protect the health and safety of mine workers.
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