Hughie Elbert Stover, the former security chief at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) coal mine in West Virginia where 29 minters died in April 2010, was sentenced Feb. 29 to 3 years in prison, 2 years’ probation and a $20,000 fine by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger.
Stover was convicted of lying to investigators and trying to destroy evidence, both felonies. Stover is accused of telling his security officers to send out a warning whenever they saw inspectors on site from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. It is against federal law to warn of an upcoming workplace safety and health inspection.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin requested the maximum sentence – 25 years – for Stover, claiming his actions allowed supervisors and managers at the mine – then owned by Massey Energy – to hide hazards and dangerous conditions from MSHA inspectors. Federal guidelines called for 33 to 41 months.
In announcing the sentence, the judge noted: “It is a very serious thing to hang death on anyone, and it should only be done when there is evidence to support it.”
Bill Wilmoth, a former U.S. attorney who is Stover’s attorney, called the sentence a “hollow” victory. “Three years is a long time for someone to be incarcerated at the age of 60,” said Wilmoth.
Federal prosecutors have charged Gary May, a former senior mine supervisor with the UBB coal mine, with felony conspiracy, altering examination record reports and tampering with (or ordering the tampering) a methane monitor.
Former Upper Big Branch miner Thomas Harrah was sentenced to 10 months in jail by Berger in September 2010 after he pled guilty to faking a foreman’s license when he performed key mine safety examinations at the mine between January 2008 and August 2009 and to then lying to investigators about it.