Don Blankenship was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine
He was found guilty in December of conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards
Twenty-nine people died in the Upper Big Branch explosion, one of the worst U.S. mine disasters in decades
The pain and anger of people who lost loved ones in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion could not be contained in court.
Family members shouted as former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship walked to a waiting car Wednesday, shortly after being sentenced to a year in federal prison for conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards.
“That man has no remorse,” said Tommy Davis, who lost his son, nephew and brother in the explosion, CNN affiliate WSAZ reported.
“He’s standing up there, and he’s hugging them people. I don’t hug nothing but a damn tombstone. I hold a picture. I don’t get to hold no grandchildren.”
Twenty-nine people died at Upper Big Branch.
Blankenship was found guilty of conspiracy in December and sentenced six years after the 2010 disaster.
Massey was the fourth-largest coal producer in the United States and the largest mine operator in Appalachia at the time of the explosion, which was one of the worst U.S. mine disasters in decades.
It had racked up an extensive list of violations before the explosion, and a 2011 report by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration found that Massey had a history of “systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts” to evade safety regulations.
The company kept two sets of books to mislead miners and inspectors, tipped off crews before surprise inspections and intimidated workers to prevent them from reporting violations, the report found.
Blankenship spoke to reporters briefly outside the Charleston, West Virginia, court.
“I feel badly for them,” WSAZ reported he said. “A lot of emotion; it’s understandable.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Carol Casto described Wednesday’s sentence as a victory for workers and workplace safety. In addition to time behind bars, Blankenship was ordered to pay a $250,000 fine.
Massey was bought by another company, Alpha Natural Resources, after the disaster. In December 2011, it settled with the Justice Department for a record $209 million in fines, penalties and compensation for families of the men killed at Upper Big Branch.
“It lets companies and their executives know that you can’t take chances with the lives of coal miners and get away with it. Putting the former chief executive officer of a major corporation in prison sends a message that violating mine safety laws is a serious crime and those who break those laws will be held accountable,” Casto said.
But Davis feels the punishment doesn’t go far enough.
“I miss my family. He hugged his, and all he gets is a year,” WSAZ reported Davis as saying. “They need to be stricter, more harsh penalties for people like that who puts greed – money – over human life.”