Coal Tattoo


James C. Justice II is in the news again today, for his purchase of the Greenbrier Sporting Club, following up on his May deal to buy The Greenbrier resort.

Probably less noticed by most of the media will be this bit of news announced by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:  An MSHA report that found “unwarrantable failure to comply” with federal safety regulations led to the death last August of Danny L. Jones, 38, of Bradshaw, who was a truck driver at one of Justice’s coal mines in Southern West Virginia.

That’s the truck Jones was driving in the photo above, shown where it came to rest after Jones lost control of the vehicle going down a hill on the Pumpkin Patch Haulroad near Burke Mountain, at the No. 65 Mine in Wyoming County, operated by one of Justice’s companies, Double Bonus Coal Co.

Why did Jones die? The MSHA report makes it pretty clear:

The accident occurred because the RD 686SX Mack Coal Haulage Truck had numerous mechanical defects, the seat belt was missing, and the victim was not properly trained. The victim had three days experience operating a coal haulage truck at this site.


Jim Justice, new owner of The Greenbrier, talks to employees on Wednesday about his plans for the resort. Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce.

Coal Tattoo has written about Justice before, noting the praise heaped upon him by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, most of the state’s media, and various political and business leaders — despite his company’s record of trying to avoid workers’ comp payments, ignoring mine safety and health rules, violating environmental laws, and then trying to dodge the monetary fines for those violations.

That post detailed problems at this same Double Bonus mine related to the 2006 death of 31-year-old miner Brett Gibson. The new MSHA report is even more telling about conditions at the operation, and of Jones’ truck in particular:

The truck RD686SX was in poor mechanical condition. The defects found on the day of the accident were:

  1. No seat belts provided;
  2. No properly operating door latches for either side of the truck;
  3. No audible warning device for low air pressure;
  4. Air pressure gauge needles (green and orange) that measure the primary and secondary air braking system pressure, were plumbed backwards;
  5. Air pressure gauge that measures the primary and secondary air braking system was reading 15 to 20 psi higher than actual pressure;
  6. No tachometer or speedometer;
  7. The transmission’s 4th and 5th gears would automatically disengage (jump out of gear) without constant pressure applied to the gear shift lever;
  8. The engine brake (Jacob Engine Brake) was wired straight through from a toggle switch by-passing the clutch and throttle pedal solenoids;
  9. The throttle pedal was mounted to a removable floor pan that was not secured to the cab of the truck;
  10. No functional starter switch. The truck engine was started by touching two wires together;
  11. The dual circuit air braking system was defeated due to incorrect plumbing and a defective check valve for the secondary air tank. If one side failed, the entire system failed; and,
  12. No back-up alarm.

MSHA inspectors issued four citations to Double Bonus subcontractor B & L Trucking, all for “unwarrantable failure to comply” with safety regulations. They also cited contractor Appalachian Leasing with 3 violations and Double Bonus with 5 violations.

The MSHA report said:

The truck defects found on the day of the accident were known by the foreman of B & L Trucking. The defects listed above were obvious to the foreman and were not corrected, recorded, or reported before putting the truck into service. The truck was not maintained in safe operating condition and should have been removed from service.

How about the truck’s transmission?

Visual inspection revealed that a weld repair of the shifting rail assembly for the 4th/5th gear sliding clutch had failed. This condition would cause the transmission to disengage or jump out of gear when the 4th or 5th gear position was selected, unless constant downward hand pressure was maintained on the gear shift lever. This weld repair was inconsistent with the original design and is considered an improper repair of this critical mechanical component.

The brakes?

The engine brake had two selectable modes using a toggle switch on the dash panel, including “off” and “on.” It was determined that the dash panel switch for the engine brake was wired directly to the engine brake solenoid. A clutch pedal switch for the engine brake system was present on the clutch pedal linkage, but had been electrically bypassed. An accelerator linkage switch was not found on the accelerator linkage. These switches are normally used in mechanical type engine brake control systems (the type installed in the accident truck) to deactivate the engine brake when either the clutch pedal is depressed or the accelerator pedal is depressed. If a clutch pedal switch is not used in a mechanical type engine brake control system it leaves the truck vulnerable to an engine stall if the engine brake is not manually turned off by the driver before the clutch is depressed to shift the transmission. 

 An inspection of the braking system was conducted with exception of the left front steering axle brake, which was damaged when the wheel assembly came off during the impact with the hillside. The brakes were not within the manufacturer’s specifications. Four of the five service brakes evaluated were determined to be compromised due to brake chamber issues, including internal defects and/or over stroke conditions which adversely affected the reserve stroke of the brake chambers. These brake chambers would be highly susceptible to bottoming out at elevated brake temperatures from expansion of the brake drum and ultimately would not produce any effective braking force during prolonged, heavy braking conditions.

Employee training?

Adequate New Miner, Hazard, and Task Training were not provided to the victim. During interviews, [B & L foreman Earl] Collins stated the victim was task trained when he rode with the victim during the initial trip, instructing him in proper operation of the truck. Training provided to the victim was inadequate and incorrect in the following ways:

  1. The task training did not instruct the victim in safety aspects and safe operating procedures. Collins was driving the same truck involved in the fatal accident while he “trained” the victim who was sitting in the cab next to him. Since this truck had the numerous defects mentioned above, several aspects of the “training” were inadequate and/or incorrect.
  2. The task training did not involve the victim practicing the assigned tasks, while being supervised, during times when production was not the primary objective.
  3. The task training did not involve direct and immediate supervision of the victim operating the truck while transporting a load.

Additionally, Task Training forms could not be produced during the investigation.

Furthermore, the victim did not receive Hazard Training from No. 65 Mine. The victim was hired on Wednesday, August 20, 2008. He worked three shifts before his death on August 22, 2008.

The victim did not receive the full required 24 hours of Newly Employed Miner Training before being assigned work duties. The victim received the initial 8 hours of class room training and approximately 8 hours of inadequate Task Training. With only approximately 16 hours of the required 24 hours of training, the victim received his work duties and was allowed to work without the required close supervision of an experienced miner while operating a coal haulage truck on August 21-22, 2008.

Again, MSHA’s conclusion?

The accident occurred because the truck was not properly maintained and had numerous safety defects. The truck was missing a seat belt, the door latches were missing, and a critical transmission component was broken. Additionally, the victim was not properly trained and sufficient management oversight was not provided to assure safety defects were corrected prior to placing the truck into service.