- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Federal regulators have agreed to reduce to $100,000 from $180,000 the fine levied against a Western Maryland coal company for a 2007 accident that killed two miners, the firm’s lawyer said Monday.

The proposed settlement between the Mine Safety and Health Administration and Tri-Star Mining Inc. of Barton was pending before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent agency that handles appeals of MSHA decisions, said Jean Ellen, chief of the commission’s docket office.

The deal follows 20 months of legal filings and negotiations between MSHA and Tri-Star over the appropriate penalty for what the administration found were violations that led to the deaths of Dale F. Jones, 51, of Lonaconing, and Michael R. Wilt, 38, of Frostburg, on April 17, 2007. They were buried beneath thousands of tons of rocks and dirt when a side of the surface mine called the highwall collapsed near Barton, about 150 miles west of Baltimore.

Tri-Star attorney Adele L. Abrams of Beltsville said the agreement is not an admission of violations or civil liability for the deaths. She said the settlement includes a provision barring the use of any of its findings in wrongful death lawsuits brought by the miners’ families.

Mr. Jones’ widow, Linda Jones, said MSHA should give the penalty money to the miners’ wives, who haven’t filed lawsuits.

“If they would have done their jobs right and shut down the site for all the things they had wrong, it would have been prevented,” she said.

MSHA’s Web site, www.msha.gov, reflects the proposed settlement. The administration cited the company for two highwall hazards and a violation of a daily inspection rule, originally assessing fines of $60,000 each. Fines for the first two have been reduced to $40,000 each, while the third was lowered to $20,000.

MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said the agency was preparing a statement.

Tri-Star Mining is owned by George R. Beeper, of Rockwood, Pa.

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