Government investigators have issued subpoenas to reluctant witnesses to the nation’s worst coal mining disaster in 40 years, West Virginia’s mine safety director said.
The five subpoenas issued to date have gone to witnesses who skipped scheduled interviews about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, said Ron Wooten, director of West Virginia’s Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training. A massive explosion at the Massey Energy Co. mine killed 29 men April 5. The blast is the subject of civil and criminal investigations.
“For the most part they were either Massey employees at that Upper Big Branch or former employees at Upper Big Branch,” said Wooten. “We wouldn’t have asked them if we didn’t need to talk to them.”
West Virginia rarely exercises its subpoena power in mine investigations and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has limited power to compel witness cooperation. The state and MSHA are conducting the civil investigation together. MSHA’s subpoena power is limited to formal public hearings and it’s conducted just two since 1977.
About 10 witnesses have skipped interviews, while approximately 80 people have spoken with investigators, Wooten said.
“Initially we were interviewing state and federal inspectors and mine rescue teams and then we started with employees at Upper Big Branch and that’s where we started running into some no-shows.”
Wooten said he doesn’t suspect the no-shows have been told not to cooperate. Massey has noted it’s unaware who has been interviewed.