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EAST CARBON CITY, Carbon County — One man was killed early Tuesday in what company officials are calling a mining accident involving an operator whose oversight of a Utah mine spawned industrywide reforms.
Alejandro Ramirez, 46, of Price, was fatally injured in an incident at the West Ridge Mine in Carbon County, operated by UtahAmerican Energy Inc.
No one else was injured in the incident and this is the first fatality at the West Ridge Mine in its 15 years of operation.
Jesse Lowder, a spokesman with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said the accident was reported at 1:39 a.m. Tuesday at the 23rd Longwall of the mine, with Ramirez found inside the cab of his mobile diesel can-setter. He had received crushing injuries, with no apparent witnesses to the accident.
West Ridge Mine has Robert Murray at the helm, who was the CEO of MurrayEnergy Corp., that ran Crandall Canyon Mine — the site of one of Utah's deadliest and most notorious modern mining disasters that went on to precipitate widespread reform.
Murray long disavowed any liability of the catastrophic roof collapse that trapped and killed six miners in 2007 and left three others dead in an ill-fated rescue attempt six days later.
With his unorthodox antics at press conferences and free-wheeling invitation to reporters to enter the still unstable mine for a tour, Murray was widely criticized for claiming the collapse was a result of a 3.9 magnitude earthquake.
The so-called "Crandall Canyon 6" — the miners trapped in the collapse — remain entombed in the mine, and a year later, the Mine Safety and Health Administration levied its highest fine possible, $1.8 million.
The U.S. Department of Labor also lashed out at MSHA for its lax oversight of the mining, concluding it failed to adequately consider an earlier mine bounce in its consideration of roof control plans.
The death of Ramirez — a six-year employee of the company — is the first fatality in a Utah coal mining incident this year in an industry that has come under increasing scrutiny by federal regulators.
In December of 2013, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor concluded that operators of the Emery County Rhino Mine knew of worsening conditions, but continued to allow miners work in the midst of an inadequate roof control plan.
The result of the conditions in the mine led to a 7-ton roof fall that killed one of the employees. Investigators said bolts that were supposed to hold the roof in place sheared off, allowing a collapse of an 8-foot-wide, 16-foot-long section of the roof.
Elam Jones, 29, a continuous mining machine operator, was killed in the mine March 22, 2013, and his cousin, Dallen McFarlane, was injured.
The labor department's Mine Safety and Health Administration issued two citations as a result of the fatal accident, pointing to an inadequate roof control plan for the conditions encountered and siting mobile roof support, or MRS, machines too far from other equipment in the entry where the accident happened.
At the West Ridge Mine, which produced 2.6 million tons of coal in 2013, there were 15 reported injuries for more than a half million hours worked, according to MSHA records.
The mine had 181 citations or orders issued under the purview of the agency, with proposed penalties of nearly $309,000.
A midyear fatality analysis by the agency shows that during the first half of 2014, 22 miners were killed in accidents in the mining industry.
Two miners were killed in roof falls or "rib" accidents.
Ramirez's death follows that of another coal miner's on Monday in Alabama, where a man was killed after his dozer went off a highwall.
Lowder said that so far this year there have been 11 coal miner fatalities.
The agency said that in both types of mining — metal and nonmetal — it continues to see preventable deaths that underscore the need to keep safety at the forefront at all times.
Contributing: Sam Penrod and Shara Park