Crandall Canyon: Tragedy to misery for inspector

February 24, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Frank Markosek-crandall

The Crandall Canyon Disaster left MSHA Inspector Frank Markosek with a long scar on his head. Photo by Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake  Tribune

My friend Mike Gorrell at The Salt Lake Tribune is one of the best coal journalists in the business. And he had a remarkable story this week, about the aftermath of the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster.

The story, For Mine Inspector, Tragedy Led to Misery, focuses on Frank Markosek, a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspector who risked his life trying to save the six miners trapped deep inside the Murray Energy mine in the summer of 2007. Mike wrote it better than I ever could, so here’s what he reported about Markosek:

For his efforts, he has endured 2½ years of physical and mental anguish from injuries suffered when a mine wall blew in on the rescuers — killing three, wounding six — and from the bureaucratic nightmare that followed.

The experience has left the third-generation miner asking, “Why am I being punished because I didn’t die?”

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) - Report of Investi

An MSHA photo of the site of the Aug. 16 “bump” at Crandall Canyon that killed two workers and an MSHA employee and injured six others. All were trying to rescue six miners trapped by a previous bump.

As Mike Gorrell reports, Markosek was convinced by Labor Department officials to join in a lawsuit over the disaster. And once it was settled, the government came after him to force him to repay what had been spent on his medical expenses. Mike reported:

Markosek, 59, cannot disclose how much money that is, citing a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement (whose value also has not been revealed). But the reimbursement easily exceeded six figures — a sizable portion of his share of the settlement.

“Congressmen probably go to dinner on that much [money],” he said sarcastically. “But to me, that’s a bunch of living.”

Markosek wasn’t the only one affected by this:

Lola Jensen had to repay medical expenses incurred by her late husband, Gary, also a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspector, in the few hours he lived after being injured in the blast. Because he died that night, her debt was much smaller.

Click here and read the whole story, especially the parts where Markosek describes the emotional and physical effects of the disaster on he and his family  … I’ll just mention this one other point:

Markosek is retired, on long-term disability. His retirement party was held last September at the Carbon Country Club. MSHA’s top coal official, Kevin Stricklin, attended. For his service to the agency, Markosek received a safety lamp.

Frank Markosek 1 aeh

Photo by Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake  Tribune

5 Responses to “Crandall Canyon: Tragedy to misery for inspector”

  1. Monty says:

    Remind me again of how coal is supposedly so good to all of us? At least the government didn’t fight his long term disability.

  2. Bruce Boyens says:

    How can I help?

  3. Shelby says:

    The company first claimed the mine dsaster was caused by an “earthquake”.
    We all know better now ! Pillar hogging was the root cause.

  4. David says:

    It’s interesting that a man who was probably seen by the coal companies as an enemy of the industry was treated as an enemy of the state when he needed care. Why didn’t worker’s compensation pay for the medical bills? Winning compensation in a litigation process shouldn’t negate your rights under workers compensation.

  5. Dan says:

    Worker’s Compensation paid for his medical bills first but is responsible for on the job injuries not caused by other people’s negligence. The Feds paid his bills. Then he joined in a suit against the coal company. The suit was won based on his medical bills and lingering disability (originally paid by us, the taxpayers). He got to keep the money based on his disability, but because he won a lawsuit based on the negligence of a third party (the coal company, not us taxpayers – his employer) his employer was entitled to get back the part of his award they fronted him by initially paying his hospital bills.

    No different than when you’re in a car crash and your auto insurance pays for your bills first, only to recover from the person who caused the crash later. If you got that check from the person who caused the crash, you would owe your insurance company the part of that check they’d advanced you.

    Money helps a lot of things, and this guy probably deserves more than he got, but the award from the court was based on his medical bills, and the government (as his employer) first paid those bills. It deserved to get that part of the award.

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