Equipment failure, lack of training listed as factors in Pike County mine death

An equipment failure and lack of proper training were to blame in the death of a truck driver at a Pike County surface mine in May, federal regulators concluded.

Roy Mullins, 45, of Pike County, was between a road grader and a tractor-trailer when the brakes on the grader failed, allowing it to roll back into the truck and crush Mullins, according to a report from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Mullins was a foreman for ST&T Leasing, which provides trucks to haul coal and mining equipment.

The day of the accident, he had hauled a 20-ton power unit for a highwall mining machine to the Pike County mine.

The truck got stuck on a steep road at the mine. Mullins told a mine employee the load had shifted on the trailer, causing the truck to lose traction.

Mullins’ brother, Chris Mullins, an equipment operator at the mine, drove a road grader to hook to the truck and pull it up the incline, according to the report.

As Roy Mullins crouched behind the 32-ton grader to hook a chain to the front of the truck, the grader rolled back and crushed him, according to MSHA.

Chris Mullins pulled the grader forward and ran to check on his brother, but there was no pulse, the report said.

An ambulance crew took Chris Mullins to the Pikeville Medical Center to be treated for emotional trauma and distress. The coroner pronounced Roy Mullins dead at the scene.

The grader had brakes pressured by air.

Chris Mullins was using both the foot brake and the clutch brake to hold the grader stationary while his brother worked to hook it to the truck, but the investigation showed the brake system had a large air leak, the MSHA report said.

With the engine at a low idle speed or off, air pressure in the brake system dropped quickly, causing the brakes to fail, according to investigators.

Investigators concluded the road grader should not have been in service at the time of the accident, the report said.

Investigators also said the haul road was not properly designed with an incline that could be traveled by the truck carrying the power unit, and that the mine operator failed to adequately train all employees in proper towing procedures, the report said.

The accident happened at Apex Energy’s No. 11 Allen Branch Job mine near Phelps.

The rate of work days lost at the mine in 2014 because of non-fatal injuries was 6.89, compared to a national average of 1.00, according to the MHSA report.

MSHA cited Apex for failing to maintain the brakes on the grader, and cited Apex and ST&T Leasing for not adequately training employees on proper towing.

Apex Energy is one of more than 15 coal companies controlled by James H. Booth of Martin County, federal records show.

Mullins’ death was the state’s first coal-mine fatality in 2015.

Another happened in September, when miner Rickey Thorpe, 29, of Dawson Springs was killed when the head of a continuous-mining machine he was repairing fell and crushed him, according to MSHA.

The accident happened at the Onton No. 9 mine in Webster County, operated by Sebree Mining LLC and controlled by Alliance Resource Partners LP.

If the state finishes the year with no more coal-mine deaths, the two would match record low totals from 2007, 2013 and 2014, federal records show.