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Fatal mine accident affects small community

Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero A sign in Wharton remembers Eric D Legg, 48, killed in a mine collapse at Brody No. 1 mine Monday
Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero
A sign in Wharton remembers Eric D Legg, 48, killed in a mine collapse at Brody No. 1 mine Monday

BIM, W.Va. — The air was heavy with grief in Boone County on Tuesday morning. The hot, bright sun was beaming down on a town that has seen many of its fathers and sons leave the light to go underground to support their families.

Many of the people who work in the mines together also went to school and grew up together. Unfortunately, mining is a dangerous job and when something goes wrong, whole towns can be affected.

Derek Castle, an apprentice miner, lives just across Roger Osborne Bridge in Bim with his stepfather Chester Cook, a 37-year veteran miner. Their front porch faces the gate of the Brody Mine No. 1 where Eric D. Legg, 48, of Twilight, and Gary P. Hensley, 46, of Chapmanville, died Monday evening.

Brody Mine No. 1, owned by a subsidiary of Patriot Coal, was one of only three mines last year to earn the label “pattern violator,” a designation reserved for the industry’s worst safety offenders.

The designation subjects the mine to greater scrutiny from regulators, and it’s the strongest tool the Mine Safety and Health Administration has.

“We hate to see one of our buddies that we see every day die like that,” said Castle. “He (Legg) was my real good friend’s daddy. He had years of experience, he knew what he was doing. I don’t think it would be a mistake on his part.”

Castle said that he thought it was the scheduling and layoffs that led to the accident.

“One day it’s shut off, one day it’s wide open. They’re not buying the coal, so the guys aren’t going to work. They are laid off one week, they work the next week. They put them in with these guys, they’ve never worked with these guys. When (Cook) was in the mines, I guarantee you, he saw the same crew for 25 years.”

According to Castle, this mine is about 10 miles away from the Upper Big Branch mine that took the lives of 29 in April 2010…

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