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Mine operator misses deadline to pay fine

HARLAN — The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration says the operator of Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County has not paid its $342,000 fine for violations stemming from a 2006 blast that killed five people.

The Courier-Journal of Louisville reports that MSHA intends to sue Kentucky Darby LLC to collect the money.

"Under the Mine Act, MSHA has legal recourse against mine operators for non-payment of civil penalties, and we are preparing to use all legal means to enforce the final order against Kentucky Darby LLC," MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said.

In September, Kentucky Darby withdrew its challenge to the safety and health violations resulting from the May 20, 2006, explosion. The company had until Oct. 19 to pay the penalty.

MSHA's investigation into the explosion found that it happened after a foreman cut a metal roof strap with an acetylene torch, igniting methane behind a nearby sealed area. Five miners were killed, and one was injured.

An attorney representing Kentucky Darby did not return a call seeking comment.

MSHA cited Darby for what acting agency chief Richard Stickler called "its disregard of basic safety practices."

Tony Oppegard, a Lexington attorney representing several of the deceased miners' families, questioned whether Kentucky Darby ever intended to pay.

"Really, the company is thumbing its nose, not only at MSHA, but also at the Kentucky Darby widows," said Oppegard.

Priscilla Petra of Pine ville, widow of George W. Petra, said she wasn't surprised by Darby's failure to pay the fine.

"I think it's awful because the mine already has gotten away with a slap on the hand and that's it," she said.

Jimmy D. Lee and Amon "Cotton" Brock died in the explosion. Three others — Petra, Roy Middleton and Paris Thomas Jr. — died while trying to get out of the smoke-filled mine. Paul Ledford survived.