State and federal investigators say it could have been prevented. Now the sole survivor, Paul Ledford, along with his family and the widows of four of the men who died are suing everyone they believe were responsible for what happened.
Sole survivor Paul Ledford and the widows of four miners who died in the methane explosion spent the last year fighting for the rights and safety of miners across the nation. Now they're taking their own fight to court. Federal and state mine safety violations are cited as the reason for holding eight entities legally responsible including the mine operator Kentucky Darby LLC, Jericol Mining Incorporated, the company that trained the miners to build what investigators called faulty mine seals, CSE Corporation, the makers of the self-contained breathing devices that three men died wearing as well as unknown distributors, the unknown manufacturer and distributors of the metal roof straps that two men died trying to cut down when the explosion happened, and the only individual sought out is the Safety and Health Director for Kentucky Darby, Ralph Napier.
Among the 32 counts, the lawsuit claims all the entities were negligent, causing the wrongful deaths of five men. But at first look, Napier's Attorney Kent Hendrickson notices some missing information.
"I noticed Paul Ledford is one of the plaintiffs and the lawsuit doesn't mention any thing about the fact that Ralph Napier and Mark Sizemore saved his life," Hendrickson said.
The lawsuit also asks for a trial by a Harlan County jury.
Count 31 of the lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of Kentucky's worker's comp law concerning Jericol Mining INC. If the widows win, it could set a new precedent for Kentucky.
*MAY 20, 2006: METHANE EXPLOSION KILLED FIVE MEN...ONE SURVIVED.
(NOTE: "DEAK" WENT IN TO FIND THE MEN BEFORE HE GOT CLEARANCE FROM OFFICIALS...TRULY IS WHY PAUL LEDFORD LIVED...CLEARANCE WASN'T GIVEN UNTIL ONE HOUR LATER)
*MAY 22, 2006: MSHA LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION INTO DARBY EXPLOSION.
*MAY 22, 2006: MSHA ANNOUNCES TESTING OF ALTERNATIVE SEALS AND ATMOSPHERE BEHIND THEM, TEMPORARY MORATORIUM ON ALL ALTERNATIVE SEAL CONSTRUCTION.
*JUNE 15, 2006: THE MINER ACT, FEDERAL LEGISLATION WAS SIGNED INTO LAW AS A RESULT OF DARBY AND SAGO.
*JUNE 27, 2006: FEDERAL INVESTIGATION INTERVIEWS WRAPPED UP: MSHA'S POLICY TO ALLOW MINER'S REPRESENTATIVES CHANGED THAT DAY...THEY WERE BANNED AFTER A REQUEST FROM THE ATTORNEY FOR RICHARD STICKLER (MSHA INVESTIGATOR ON DARBY).
*JULY 2006: EPPC/OSML: SCSR REVIEW IN ALL KENTUCKY MINES CHECK DEVICES AND REMOVE IF INACTIVE.
*JULY 14, 2006: WIDOWS MEET IN CLOSED-DOOR MEETING WITH NATIONAL LEADERS CON. GEORGE MILLER (CA) AND CON. BEN CHANDLER (KY) ABOUT WHAT CHANGES THEY WANT IN LEGISLATION.
*JULY 17, 2006: FEDERAL DEADLINE FOR UNDERGROUND COAL MINES ACROSS THE NATION TO BE IN COMPLIANCE WITH A MORATORIUM ON THE FUTURE USE OF ALTERNATIVE SEAL METHODS.
*JULY 19, 2006: MSHA MORE THAN DOUBLES STRENGTH REQUIREMENTS FOR ALTERNATIVE SEALS TO BETTER PROTECT MINERS...NOW MUST WITHSTAND 50 PSIG PRESSURE.
*JULY 25, 2006: MSHA ISSUES GUIDANCE FOR DEVELOPING EMERGENCY RESPONSE PLANS TO HELP MINERS ESCAPE ACCIDENTS AND TO PROTECT MINERS TRAPPED AFTER ACCIDENTS.
*JULY 29, 2006: WIDOW MELISSA LEE BECOMES MINE SAFETY ADVOCATE.
*AUGUST 2, 2006: OSML WRAPS UP REVIEW OF SCSR'S: 134 DEVICES WERE FOUND DEFECTIVE AND REMOVED FROM SERVICE. THE INSPECTION WAS ORDERED FOLLOWING THE DEADLY KENTUCKY DARBY ACCIDENT IN HARLAN COUNTY. STATE MINE SAFETY ANALYSTS VISITED NEARLY TWO HUNDRED UNDERGROUND MINES IN KENTUCKY.
*AUGUST 14, 2006: MSHA APPROVES PROXIMITY PROTECTION SYSTEM FOR MINING INDUSTRY.
*AUGUST 16, 2006: FEDERAL INSPECTORS FIND MORE THAN 50 ADDITIONAL VIOLATIONS AT DARBY BUT *NOT* RELATED TO THE BLAST...THIS COMES IN ADDITION TO 28 SAFETY VIOLATIONS FOUND FIVE MONTHS *PRIOR* TO THE DEADLY EXPLOSION. RECORDS SHOW THE COMPANY OWES 51-HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR 41 VIOLATIONS NOT RELATED THE EXPLOSION.
*AUGUST 19, 2006: DARBY MEMORIAL CEREMONY IN HARLAN CIVIC CENTER.
*SEPTEMBER 8, 2006: MSHA PUBLISHES RULE TO RAISE MINE SAFETY PENALTIES
*NOVEMBER 29, 2006: FEDERAL REGULATORS SAY THE HARLAN COUNTY COAL MINE WHERE FIVE MINERS WERE KILLED LAST SPRING HAS BEEN SEALED AND ABANDONED THREE WEEKS AGO.
*DECEMBER 1, 2006: STATE ACCIDENT REPORT ON DARBY RELEASED TO PUBLIC. FINDS THE USE OF TORCHES AND FALTY SEAL CONSTRUCTION CAUSED A METHANE EXPLOSION.
*DECEMBER 8, 2006: U.S. LABOR DEPT.'S MSHA MAKES NEW EMERGENCY MINE EVACUATION RULES PERMANENT...EMERGENCY CONTACT NUMBER ESTABLISHED FOR REPORTING ALL MINING ACCIDENTS. (gives mining companies guidance on how to comply)
*JANUARY 15, 2007: DISCREPANCIES DISCOVERED BETWEEN FEDERAL AND STATE INSPECTIONS...The Courier-Journal article says a state inspector cited the Darby mine only 10 times in five visits, beginning in January of 2004...While the federal inspectors issued 148 citations during 10 inspections over the same time period...That's seven times more citations per visit.
*JANUARY 23, 2007: $7.9 MILLION ISSUED IN MINE SAFETY AND TRAINING GRANTS FROM MSHA FOR THE FISCAL YEAR.
*FEB. 8, 2007: MSHA GIVES COMPANIES GUIDANCE ON HOW TO COMPLY WITH BREATHABLE AIR REGULATIONS OF MINER ACT.
*MARCH 13, 2007: MSHA CONDUCTS NATIONWIDE FREE SAFETY TRAINING SEMINARS.
*MARCH 27, 2007: TONY OPPEGARD, MELISSA LEE AND SCOTT HOWARD TESTIFY IN DC HEARINGS ON MINE SAFETY TO HOUSE COMMITTEE FOR LABOR AND EDUCATION.
*APRIL 12, 2007: MSHA LEVIES $336,000 FINE AGAINST DARBY MINE NO. 1 OPERATOR OPERATOR CHARGED WITH SIX CONTRIBUTORY VIOLATIONS FOR FATAL ACCIDENT. FEDERAL ACCIDENT REPORT ALSO RELEASED.
*MAY 16, 2007: FEDERAL HEARING WITH RICHARD STICKLER...EMERGENCY INFLATABLE SHELTER DEMONSTRATED AND PUSHED FOR EVERY STATE...ALREADY MANDATORY IN WV.