Former UBB security chief sentenced to three years for lying

March 1, 2012

The first person to stand trial in connection with the Upper Big Branch (UBB) Mine explosion that killed 29 miners was sentenced to three years in prison for lying to investigators about the April 2010 incident.

Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, the former security chief at the mine was also convicted in October of ordering a subordinate to destroy thousands of security-related documents following the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in four decades.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger said she took into account Stover's age and that his crimes had no bearing on the explosion itself, the Associated Press reported. Still, the sentence is one of the stiffest punishments ever handed down in a mine safety case.

The sentencing of Hughie Elbert Stover was the first in what the government expects to be several cases in the ongoing investigation into the UBB mine blast. So far, though only one other worker has been charged. That employee testified at Stover's sentencing as part of a plea agreement.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin had sought a 25-year sentence, but he said he wasn't disappointed with the judge's decision.

“This represents perhaps one of the longest sentences ever handed down in a mine safety case,” Goodwin said. “We wanted to send a clear message and will continue to send that anyone who obstructs our investigation, they're going to be met with the harshest prosecution.”

Witnesses testified at Stover’s trial that he instructed mine guards to send out radio alerts whenever inspectors entered the property, which is illegal. Stover denied the claims in a November 2010 interview with investigators, which led to the lying charge.

The second count alleged Stover sought to destroy documents in January 2011 by ordering a subordinate to bag them and then throw them into an on-site trash compactor, which is also illegal. Massey Energy, which owned the mine at the time, repeatedly warned employees to keep all records while the disaster remained under investigation. Company officials told investigators of the trashed documents, which were recovered.
The defense portrayed the former law enforcement officer, a veteran of both the Navy and Marines, as a by-the-book employee who became a victim of the government’s zeal to blame someone for the deadly explosion.

A former mine superintendent, Gary May, was charged last week with conspiracy. He is the highest-ranking company official charged so far in the blast.

May was accused, among other things, of disabling a methane gas monitor, falsifying safety records and using code words to tip off miners underground about surprise inspections.

May admitted he tipped off miners about the inspections and directed others to do the same. But he said Stover never told him to do so, and May said he was unaware whether Stover sent such warnings.



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