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Former West Virginia coal mine executive sentenced to prison over '10 disaster

By Doug G. Ware
1/5
Former West Virginia coal mine executive sentenced to prison over '10 disaster
A sign at a restaurant calls for passers by to "Pray for our Miners" in Whitesville, West Virginia, on April 6, 2010, a town just north of Montcoal where 29 miners were killed in an explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. File photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI | License Photo

CHARLESTON, W.Va., April 6 (UPI) -- An executive in charge of a West Virginia coal mine that suffered an explosion six years ago and killed nearly 30 workers was sentenced to federal prison Wednesday on a conspiracy charge.

Donald Blankenship, former chief executive of Massey Energy, was convicted by a jury of willfully violating mine health and safety standards. Wednesday, he was sentenced to serve a year in prison and pay a $250,000 fine.

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Blankenship's sentencing occurred in federal court and came six years and a day after the April 5, 2010, blast at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia, killed 29 people.

"This sentence is a victory for workers and workplace safety," Acting U.S. Attorney Casto said. "It lets companies and their executives know that you can't take chances with the lives of coal miners and get away with it. Putting the former chief executive officer of a major corporation in prison sends a message that violating mine safety laws is a serious crime and those who break those laws will be held accountable."

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An SUV is seen leaving at Performance Coal Company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, in Montcoal, West Virginia, on April 7, 2010. An explosion at the mine killed 29 people. File Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI

Blankenship was not accused of directly causing the mine explosion, but a subsequent federal investigation led to the conspiracy charge against him.

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"My main point is wanting to express sorrow to the families and everyone for what happened," Blankenship said in court Wednesday, before the sentencing.

The Upper Big Branch mine disaster is the deadliest in the United States since 91 were killed at a silver mine in Kellogg, Idaho, in 1972. It's the deadliest coal disaster since 27 miners died at a mine in central Utah in 1984.

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