RICHMOND -- Six months after a half-ton boulder loosened by a strip-mining operation tumbled down a hill and crushed a 3-year-old boy in his bed, the governor signed tougher new safety legislation yesterday as the youngster's parents looked on.
The bill, prompted by the death of Jeremy Kyle Davidson, proceeded quickly though the House and Senate as an emergency measure and passed unanimously in both chambers. It requires mining companies to develop plans to protect people in any area where there is a risk of falling rock. It also increases the maximum civil penalty for violations resulting in injury or death from $5,000 to $70,000.
''What I hope and pray is that this piece of legislation will prevent this kind of tragedy from ever happening again," Governor Mark R. Warner said as Jeremy's mother, Cindy Davidson, blinked back tears.
On Aug. 20, a boulder fell 650 feet down a hill, crashed through the Davidsons' house, and killed Jeremy as he slept. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy found A & G Coal Corp. ''demonstrated gross negligence" and fined the company a total of $15,000 for three violations.
But the agency sought tougher regulations and bigger fines. Nearly 100 people marched from Appalachia to the family's Wise County community in southwestern Virginia last summer, urging lawmakers to craft stronger safety legislation.
The coal industry backed the law, which takes effect immediately.
Tommy Hudson, president of the Virginia Coal Association, said the law will at least make the industry more careful.
Jeremy's family is suing A & G for $26.5 million. A special prosecutor has opened an investigation into whether the coal company should face criminal charges.
The rock that killed Jeremy also crashed into the bedroom of his brother Zachary, but that boy was not hurt.