Mine operator pleads guilty, fined $500,000 in Crandall Canyon disaster

Posted at 5:12 PM, Mar 14, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-14 20:01:19-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The company that ran the Crandall Canyon mine when nine miners were killed in 2007 pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a pair of misdemeanor mine safety violations.

Genwall Resources, Inc., was fined $500,000.

U.S. District Judge David Sam said he was "outraged" at the light plea bargain and the relatively cheap sentence given to Genwall, but he allowed the plea bargain in the interests of helping the families move on and to stop holding up other investigations into the disaster.

"No amount is adequate to pay for the loss of a loved one," he told some of the miners' widows who were seated in the courtroom.

Outside the courthouse, the widows felt that justice wasn't really served, but said federal prosecutors' hands were tied because of the laws that are on the books.

"They couldn't do anything," said Wendy Black, the widow of Dale Black. "They did the best they could. That's all they could do."

In court, federal prosecutors acknowledged public outrage against the plea deal but said the laws would not allow them to pursue harsher charges or penalties.

"We don't set public policy in our office. We just enforce the law," U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow told FOX 13. "These two charges were the most serious, provable offenses, keeping in mind that our prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt."

Kristin Cox, the ex-wife of miner Brandon Kimber, who died in the 2007 disaster, said the laws need to change.

"Things like this are going to continue to happen until the laws are changed and mine owners are held accountable for their wrongdoings and all these things," she said. "Until then, you're going to see tons of families like we are."

Attorneys for Genwall, who took the guilty plea in court for the company, refused comment outside of court. They also offered no statement at sentencing.

Cox said she would have at least liked an apology.

"The pain's still going to be there," she said. "But it would be a sense of, speaking for myself, it would be a sense of relief and acknowledgement that at least this man is remorseful for what he's done to so many lives."

The families of the miners did settle a civil lawsuit over the deaths a couple of years ago, their lawyers said. The Mine Safety Health Administration has continued an investigation into the disaster, which could result in up to $1.5 million in fines.