Former mine safety official Tony Oppegard sent me this powerful NBC News story from last January about a miner who was killed in 2004 filming unsafe conditions in the mine in which he worked.
Twenty-five–year-old Edwin Pennington told his wife he’d had a close call the day before. “He was scared. He said he almost got hit by the rock and that it barely missed him,” said his wife, Tasha Pennington.The company knew of the hazard, but hadn't warned the miners. MSHA had fined the company numerous times, including a $3,600 fine for allowing miners to work under an unsupported roof.
So Pennington went back with his camera, and he ended up taping the final minutes of his own life. His family sometimes watches the tape, even though they know how it ends.
“I’d give anything in this world if there was some way that you could pause it and tell them to get out,” says his brother Darren Pennington.
The miners, in a space only four feet tall, work to shore up the timbers that brace a part of the mine's roof. The videotape shows one of the timbers broken, and bits of rock dribbling down. One miner nervously tests the roof with his hammer, aware they are working directly underneath a giant seam in the rock. The miners even joke about death.
Soon after, a rock falls and the roof seems to be bulging. The miners try to scramble away, but eventually, Pennington is crushed under a slab of rock 200 feet long. The other miners escape.
“The company’s been going on about its business for the last year and a half basically without any consequences so far,” says Tony Oppegard, a former mine safety official.
Edwin’s father, Everett, is frustrated: “Nobody’s been held accountable for his death. It’s just as if it never happened.”
Bell County Coal refused to comment. The company is challenging $154,000 in fines for safety violations associated with Pennington’s death, calling them unsubstantiated and “excessive.”