Coal mine owner commits suicide
Allentown Morning Call - Allentown,PA, USA
By Chris Parker
October 16, 2007
The owner of a Schuylkill County coal mine where a miner died in a blast last year committed suicide at the business early Monday.
David S. Himmelberger of Tremont died of a gunshot wound, county Coroner David Dutcavich said.
Himmelberger was president and owner of the R&D Coal Mine in the township, where a methane blast on Oct. 23, 2006, killed Dale Reightler, 43, of Donaldson, Frailey Township, Schuylkill County.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration subsequently fined the company $874,500 for ''flagrant'' safety violations at the mine.
''Mr. Himmelberger committed an act of self-harm this morning and was successful at taking his own life,'' Dutcavich said. ''He apparently left home very early this morning, as was his habit, and didn't say anything to anybody.
Dutcavich said Himmelberger' s co-workers said he had been out of sorts.
Reached by phone, Himmelberger' s wife, Dawn, said she was at a loss for words, but added, ''They are pushing these miners to the brink.''
Himmelberger' s attorney, Adele Abrams, said he was distressed by the prolonged case and potential fines that would have sent him into bankruptcy, according to the Mine Safety and Health News newsletter.
Cindy Rothermel, president of the Independent Miners and Associates, an anthracite mine industry advocacy group based in Tremont, said, ''We have no words -- everybody is just totally astounded.''
R&D was the first mining company cited for flagrant violations under new federal rules forged in 2006. The rules allow much higher financial penalties, and the company could have been fined about $1.33 million for the violations investigators found.
In a report released March 26, MSHA blamed the blast on inadequate ventilation, poor blasting practice -- including leaving an uncovered box of explosives 30 feet from the blast area -- having unqualified miners doing the blasting, firing the blast before miners could move to a safe area and improper preshift examinations of the work area at the company's Buck Mountain Slope Mine in Tremont Township.
The report said mine operators waited more than an hour after the explosion to call 911, and almost 90 minutes to notify federal mining officials. Though the report also said it was miner Reightler who left the explosives at the blast site, was to have checked for methane gas, and who gave the signal for the blast and who disconnected an air hose from pneumatic drilling equipment for ventilation, it was still R&D's responsibility to ensure mining regulations were followed.
The report found seven ''root causes'' for the blast that, if eliminated, would have prevented or mitigated it. Among them were that the miners who conducted the blasting activities were not qualified to handle, load or fire explosives. The report also said the shots were fired before miners were in safe areas, and that Reightler was ''in a straight line with the force of the blast when the shot was fired, causing fatal injuries.'' In addition, it said mine operators didn't ensure there was enough circulating air current to dilute or carry away ''explosive noxious and harmful gases.'' The report also says the mine used long entries with temporary ventilation even though MSHA officials told Himmelberger two weeks before the blast that it was in violation of federal mine regulations.
The state Department of Environmental Protection forced the company to close in January and revoked its mining permit for disregarding the ''safety and well-being of the miners and their families.'' The DEP said the company misled the agency on details of a 2004 blast that injured four miners, saying it was an air line explosion when in fact it was a methane explosion similar to the October 2006 blast.