CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Relatives of the 29 men who died at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County are tired of waiting. A handful of those family members gathered Wednesday on the steps of the U.S. District Courthouse in Charleston calling for justice to be served. Their definition of justice is former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and other high-ranking corporate officers of Massey going to prison.
“They shouldn’t be walking around free,” said Shereen Adkins who lost her son Jason in the explosion. “They should be charged with something. I’m sure they have enough evidence, there’s no doubt.”
But as the fourth anniversary of the 2010 disaster approached, the convictions in the criminal investigation have come on lower level Massey Energy officials and mainly for warning others at a mining complex that a federal investigator had arrived. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said again Wednesday the criminal investigation continues and remains a top priority.
But the families are frustrated and adding to the frustration is the new documentary “Upper Big Branch — Never Again.” The production was funded by Blankenship who maintains a natural gas inundation was to blame for the blast. Other separate investigations blame unsafe conditions in the mine with malfunctioning equipment and a massive buildup of coal dust.
“He can point fingers just like he did on his documentary,” said Tommy Davis who was working at Upper Big Branch the day of the explosion. Davis lost his son, brother, and nephew, but managed to escape along with another nephew. “He didn’t want to take responsibility for his actions.”
Davis said many were aware of unsafe working conditions at the Massey mine, but feared for their job if they raised the issue. He said some did and were fired, others tended to go along with what was corporate policy just to stay employed.
“He’s the chief executive officer at Massey. He’s the man. He could have done anything he wanted,” said Davis. “If he came in and felt like MSHA did something wrong, he could have shut it down, gone to the table, and worked it out. Did he? No, because he’s a money hungry son of a bitch. He wanted to turn that coal into money.”
Davis and others said they live their lives today one day at a time and try to find the strength to move forward.
“It’s an everyday thing, you never get over it. You’ve got to go on, but it’s hard. It’s every day,” said Gina Jones, who’s husband Deano Jones died in the mine. “Don Blankenship should be put in jail. He’s murdered 29 men.”