PIKEVILLE, Ky. -- A mine supervisor and a coal company put production over safety prior to an underground explosion last year that killed five miners, relatives and the sole survivor alleged yesterday in a lawsuit.
The lawsuit cited numerous safety violations issued by regulators against Kentucky Darby LLC, coal boss Ralph Napier, and Jericol Mining, which provided management, planning, engineering, and safety training to Darby Mine No. 1. The plaintiffs also seek damages against the manufacturer of the emergency air packs used by the victims.
The lawsuit was filed in Harlan County a year and a day after the May 20, 2006 blast, which was ignited by miners Jimmy Lee and shift foreman Amon "Cotton" Brock as they used an open torch near a methane leak.
Brock's widow is the only widow not named as a plaintiff. The other four widows and Paul Ledford, the sole survivor, seek unspecified damages.
They allege Napier hired Brock as a foreman despite warnings that Brock regularly violated safety laws and placed coal production ahead of safety, the lawsuit states.
Brock also was one of two foremen who supervised construction of the underground seals meant to isolate methane, a naturally occurring gas in coal mines, according to the complaint. The protective seal at the site was poorly constructed and did not meet US guidelines, investigators said.
Brock, 51, and Lee, 33, died at the scene of the blast. Roy Middleton, 35, Paris Thomas Jr., 53, and Bill Petra, 49, died from carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation while trying to escape.