Blankenship defends UBB documentary; victims' relative fires bac - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Blankenship defends UBB documentary; victims' relative fires back

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Cory Davis is one of 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch explosion in 2010. Cory Davis is one of 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch explosion in 2010.
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KANAWHA COUNTY, WV -

Tommy Davis holds onto what he can. Drawings, old clothes, and  thousands of pictures. They remind him of his son, Cory.

"This is from when they were teeny tiny fellers," said Davis, holding up a picture Cory drew more than 20 years ago. 

It reads, "We love are daddy so much we can hug him to death."

Cory Davis was one of 29 miners killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010. Massey Energy operated the mine. 

The wounds are still raw for Davis, who also worked at UBB. His brother and nephew died, too. So when the former Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, funded a documentary about what "really" happened at UBB, Davis got mad.

"Every time he gets on television, he's misleading someone. He's misleading with his documentary, it's all lies," Davis said.

On Thursday 13News interviewed Blankenship about the film "UBB: Never Again."

Blankenship said the film was made "in a tribute and in an effort to honor the coal miner victims so we could make it safer for coal miners moving forward."

"We thought it was appropriate the way it was done," he said.

Blankenship hired Adroit Films to make the documentary. No one consulted the surviving family members before the documentary was made. Davis said no one asked him permission to use a picture of his loved ones in the film, either.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration released a report on UBB in 2011. They found a series of violations that led to a methane blast. That smaller explosion led to a larger coal dust explosion, according to the report. A state investigation also probed the incident.

"This is not my agenda, this is a pure scientific thing," said Blankenship, claiming the gas coming out of the mine after the explosion showed levels of ethane and propane, elements found in natural gas.

But the documentary tells a different story, claiming natural gas caused the disaster. The film portrays Blankenship as a pioneer in safety. MSHA issued Massey 369 violations, 21 of them flagrant violations.

Not necessarily an unsafe mine.

"MSHA is basically investigating themselves...." Blankenship said. "I don't think it reflects well on them that the mine would have exploded from methane or poor maintenance of the mine."

Davis said he has his own theory: he believes Massey put profits over safety, and it cost him his son.

"You know what it would feel like to hold his grandbaby if I ever had that chance that I'll never get?" Davis said, through tears. "I'll never get that." 

When asked why people hate Blankenship, the former CEO blamed the media.

"Well it's because of the media, the tone of their questions and what they put out there is a lot like you're doing now," Blankenship told 13 News reporter Alanna Autler. 

But Davis has a plan. The more Blankenship speaks out, the more he'll speak out, too.

"Probably until God takes me," Davis said. "Or I see him stand in front of the cameras and say to the people, 'I'm sorry for everything I've done.'"

Approximately 25 family members and friends protested outside the federal courthouse in Charleston Wednesday. Their goal was to put pressure on U.S Attorney Booth Goodwin to make additional arrests in connection to the explosion.

"We wish we could move faster, but we want to dot our I's and cross our t's and make sure we've looked at everything we need to look at before we say that our investigation is completed," Goodwin said in an interview with 13 News Thursday.

Goodwin stated he will hold accountable anyone who was responsible for the tragedy and his office has been working "systematically."

Federal prosecutors have said they're investigating a conspiracy involving former Massey officials.

Four individuals have been convicted of federal violations so far. In Sept., U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced former Massey official Dave Hughart to 42 months in prison and three years supervised release.

Former UBB superintendent Gary May was sentenced in Jan. to 21 months in jail and a $20,000 in fines after he admitted he sidestepped safety rules and covered up the results.

Judge Berger previously sentenced Hughie Stover to 36 months in prison. The former UBB security director was convicted of providing false information to investigators, as well as interrupting the federal probe.

Miner Thomas Harrah pleaded guilty to faking a foreman's license when he carried out mine safety tests between 2008 and 2009, lying to investigations about what happened. Berger sentenced Harrah to 10 months in jail.

Goodwin said he thought it was in poor taste Blankenship released the documentary just days away from the fourth anniversary of the UBB mine disaster.

Adroit Films sent 13 News this statement:

"The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for the freedom of the press and freedom of speech for individuals and companies. The Upper Big Branch mine disaster is a matter of public concern. Every person is entitled under the First Amendment to have an opinion and discuss matters of public concern, including Adroit Films and Don Blankenship.

The purpose behind the Upper Big Branch - Never Again documentary is to review forensic evidence from the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that occurred on April 5, 2010. The film seeks to start a public discussion about the need for cooperation among the mining industry, government and mining experts to improve mining safety. Analyzing forensic evidence from tragedies like the explosion at Upper Big Branch and adopting innovations and technology developed by coal companies could bring improvements to mine safety. Don Blankenship is concerned that improvements in mine safety will not be made as long as the geological characteristics of mines and mine disasters are not fully investigated.

Adroit Films did not deceive or intend to deceive any interview subject about the film or its participants. Interview subjects were asked to comment on mine safety and mine disasters. Each signed a release to agree to be interviewed for the film which was identified in the release as being about the Upper Big Branch mine. Information about Adroit Films and its projects is on its publicly accessible website, including information about a recent project produced for Don Blankenship."