Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pa. coal mine owner, cited after fatal explosion, commits suicide

Pa. coal mine owner, cited after fatal explosion, commits suicide
The Associated Press
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A coal mine operator who was fighting record fines issued to his business after a fatal accident committed suicide at one of his mines.
David S. Himmelberger, owner of the R&D Coal Co. in Schuylkill County, died of a gunshot wound early Monday, county Coroner David Dutcavich said.
Himmelberger, who was known as Stu, was under stress from the investigation and litigation stemming from a deadly explosion at the company's Buck Mountain Slope Mine in Tremont, his lawyer, Adele Abrams, said Tuesday.
R&D was the first mining company cited for flagrant violations under new federal rules forged in 2006. Congress boosted mine-safety fines after a series of miner deaths, including those of 12 men at West Virginia's Sago mine.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration fined the company $874,500 following the October 2006 death of miner Dale Reightler, 43, of Donaldson.
"The record penalties that they proposed against a small company were just unconscionable," Abrams said. "They are not allowed to fine somebody out of business."
The company will continue to fight the fines in court, Abrams said.
Himmelberger's wife, Dawn, told The Morning Call of Allentown that "they are pushing these miners to the brink."
Himmelberger was part of a small community of anthracite miners still working in Pennsylvania. Anthracite, a type of hard, relatively clean-burning coal, once heated millions of homes but now represents a tiny sliver of the U.S. coal industry.
In March, MSHA released a report on Reightler's death saying the Buck Mountain Slope Mine had inadequate ventilation, unsafe blasting practices and improper pre-shift safety checks.
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's alleged cover-up of a similar 2004 blast might have contributed to Reightler's death.
Himmelberger died at R&D's Orchard coal mine, leaving a wife and three children, Abrams said.