Coal Tattoo

Ross begins testimony in Blankenship trial

The jury in the Don Blankenship trial this afternoon began hearing from Bill Ross, a former Massey Energy ventilation expert, who warned Blankenship about growing safety problems at Massey nearly a year before the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Under questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby, Ross testified about safety warnings he gave to Blankenship and other Massey officials in June 2009.

“We were getting a lot of violations and I was concerned about it,” Ross said. “Normally, a mine that has a lot of serious violations, it has a lot of injuries, fatalities.”

Ruby walked Ross through a now-widely publicized memo line-by-line and asked him to explain issues about mine ventilation, dust control, and Massey’s hostile relationship with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

“All they wanted was for a company to comply” said Ross, who worked for MSHA for 32 years before he joined Massey. “You must take that agency seriously. They are out there to help the operator and protect the miner, too”
Ross read to the jury from the memo, quoting one Massey employee who told Ross during a safety class “We are told to run, run, run until we get caught. When we get caught, then we fix it.”

After reaching the end of each page of the memo, Ruby would have Ross read aloud a warning that the document was to be kept confidential.