Protect Your Family on the Road

Car in snow in ditchMore than 90 million people will be traveling home for the holidays this week.  Getting your vehicle ready to travel is one of the most important ways to keep yourself and your family safe and to avoid mishaps along the road. 

You certainly want to prepare. Check the Internet to see what the weather forecast is in the area that you’ll be traveling.  You may want to leave a little earlier to avoid bad weather, or you may want to allow yourself more time for traffic or the possibility of snow on the roads… use your good common sense.  Fill your windshield wiper fluid and tires to recommended levels.  If you know you will be driving through snow, throw in some ice melt, kitty litter, or gravel for traction.

If you do break down, the time it takes a towing company to get to you might be longer than usual. They see a huge jump in accidents close to the holidays.  You may have to wait an hour or two before help arrives, so prepare for that by making sure that your gas tank is full and be sure to pack extra blankets and food.

Other things to remember are to make sure you don’t always count on your GPS; have a backup plan for directions. If your wind shield looks like it has streaks on it it’s probably time to change your wiper blades.  And finally, slow down.

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Injury Lawyers. Free books for WV accident victims — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families. We are glad to answer your questions.

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Wife of Gas Drilling Worker Sues for Wrongful Death

Fracking rigThe wife of a Weston man killed in fatal crash in Monongalia County is suing for wrongful death.  This woman’s husband was killed last July when he and a coworker were ejected from their vehicle.  Now his widow is suing her husband’s employer, Nabors Well Services for negligence and wrongful death.

She said Nabors knew her husband and coworker had worked more than 30 hours in a 48-hour span.  The wife of the deceased is also is suing the driver of the vehicle for negligence causing wrongful death.  The driver of the vehicle suffered minor injuries.  Federal laws regulate how many miles a truck driver can travel per day, per week and on consecutive days. All too often, however, truck drivers push these limits to increase profits or because they are pressured by their employers.

The Nabors companies own and operate approximately 521 land drilling and approximately 607 land workover and well-servicing rigs in North America.  Nabors Industries is an  oilfield service company involved in every phase of oil and gas drilling and production.  Nabors advertises that they promote safety in the workplace and full compliance with the laws and regulations of the countries in which it operates.

Gas Well Drilling Operations are riddled with risks to Workers:

Oil and gas workers face many risks inherent to their job which may include: explosions, work place injuries, truck accidents, serious and catastrophic injuries, exposure to hazardous chemicals, industrial accidents involving heavy tools and complex equipment, contaminated air and water, hazardous driving conditions, fires, burns, malfunctioning equipment, and safety violations. Driving to and from the drilling site has become a major risk factor: one-third of all serious accidents and fatalities linked to fracking occur from trucking accidents.

Giving the many dangers, some of which may be unmanageable by these companies, greatest attention needs to be giving to ensuring that safety regulations are consistently followed to maximize safety for their employees.

Hazards of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving (driving 30 hours in 48 definitely qualifies) is a known hazard and is preventable.  We all know how dangerous driving under the influence or texting while driving is, but driving while drowsy can be equally dangerous. Sleepiness can cause slower reaction times, blurred vision, lapses in judgment, and delays in processing information.

No employee should be put in a position of driving with such sleep deprivation which causes his reaction ability to be about equal with a person who is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Individual people are irreplaceable to their families and loved ones, but the rest of the family will need to attempt to build a new life without the love and financial support of this accident victim.  This wife was correct in filing a wrongful death suit.  Companies must be held accountable for maintaining as safe as possible work environments for their employees and should be heavily penalized when they don’t.

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Injury Lawyers. Free books for WV accident victims — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families. We are glad to answer your questions.

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Protect Your Family This Christmas

Christmas candles burningDon’t let fire ruin your family Christmas.   Fire hazards greatly increase when decorating for the holidays; about one-third of home fires and home fire deaths occur during December, January and February.  Fire is an expense you can’t afford this Christmas, potentially costing irreplaceable lives and an average of $35,000 damage per house fire.

Main Causes of Fire Calamities include:  Connecting multiple extension cords together, putting up holiday lights without inspecting them for frayed cords, letting your tree dry out after it is decorated in the home, creosote buildup in chimney, and leaving a burning candle unattended.

Top Winter Fire Hazards:  

  • Cooking calamities. Keep an all-purpose or Class ABC rated fire extinguisher nearby to get a kitchen fire under control.
  • Space heaters: Avoid setting up a space heater too close to curtains, furniture or holiday decorations. Keep at least three feet of clear space around it and set it up on the floor.
  • Children playing with fire: Never leave children unsupervised with ignition materials such as matches or lighters.
  • Burn only wood in the fireplace: Trash, cardboard boxes or Christmas trees burn unevenly and may cause a dangerous flash fire.
  • Take care with candles: Make sure candles are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning.
  • Holiday lights: Inspect each year for frayed wires, bare spots or broken sockets before putting them up. Turn off holiday lights before leaving the home or going to bed.
  • Counterfeit electronics: Look for CSA or UL certification marks that indicate the product was tested and met the product safety standards.
  • Electrical outlets: Don’t overload your electrical outlets with too many lights or decorations.
  • Electrical cords: Never bundle electric cords together or run under rugs or carpet.
  • Christmas trees: Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches. Regularly give the tree plenty of water.
  • Dirty chimney: Most chimney fires are caused by the buildup of creosote, a highly combustible byproduct of burning wood. Have it inspected and cleaned annually.
  • Dirty fireplace: Put embers in a metal container and set them outside to cool for 24 hours before disposal.

Wishing you a safe and Merry Christmas from the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Injury Lawyers. Free books for WV accident victims — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.  We are glad to answer your questions.

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Seven Things that Really Irk People with Disabilities

wheelchairs on beachI recently read that since the start of the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, over 17,ooo American soldiers have been catastrophically wounded, and the military has treated 1,559 amputee soldiers, many who are double amputees.  With advances in better protected vehicles, body armor and improved medical care, more soldiers who would have been killed in the past are now wounded amputees.   There are more people now than at any other time in history who are working to overcome the limitations imposed by disabilities. (World Magazine, “Walking Wounded,” by Edward Lee Pitts, 11/17/2012.)

As a former soldier and now as an attorney who helps people navigate through the insurance claims process  after having sustained catastrophic injuries from vehicle or workplace accidents, I am particularly interested in and well aware of the impact such injuries have on an injured person’s future and family.  As families and friends prepare for holiday gatherings, here are some tips for putting others at ease.

The following are some courtesy tips provided by the United Spinal Association:

  • Put the person first:  say “person with a disability” rather than “disabled person;” say “wheelchair user” rather than “wheelchair bound” or “confined to a wheelchair.”  The wheelchair enables the person to get around and participate in society.
  • Always speak directly to the person with the disability, not just to their companion or aide.  Respect their privacy and do not make their disability the topic of conversation. 
  • Avoid outdated terms like “handicapped” or “crippled.”  Also avoid euphemistic jargon like “differently abled.”
  • Ask before you help:  just because someone has a disability, don’t assume they need help.  Adults with disabilities want to be treated as independent people.  Only offer assistance if the person seems to need it.
  • Avoid touching a person’s wheelchair, scooter, or cane.  It is considered part of their personal space.
  • Never lean over a person in a wheelchair to shake someone else’s hand.
  • Never, ever, use a person in a wheelchair to hold people’s coats or set your drink on their desktop.  (Surprisingly enough, some people do these things.) 

No matter how a person’s catastrophic injury occurred, sensitivity and respect is crucial in our interactions with people with disabilities, just as it is with everyone else we encounter.

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Workplace Injury/Wrongful Death Lawyers. Free books — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.

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Sgt. Todd May Killed in DUI Car Accident/Jerod Green Trial

Jerod Green Sentenced to 25-50 Years in Prison

02/19/2013:  Jerod Green, 36, was sentenced in Green County, Pa. court Tuesday morning. A jury convicted Green last year on third-degree murder charges in the May’s death during a police pursuit.  Green has been sentenced to 25-50 years in prison.   Green, 36, will not be eligible for parole until he serves 25 years, Pennsylvania corrections and parole officials said. That will be in 2037, when Green is 60 years old.
If parole is never granted, he will complete his sentence in 50 years. There is no good time — time off for good behavior — for violent offenders in Pennsylvania, officials said.

According to Brandy Brubaker of the Dominion Post, Morgantown:  Greene County, Pa., Judge William Nalitz said the only thing he could do to keep Jerod Green from driving drunk and killing again was to put him behind bars for a long time.  “I am struck by the inevitableness of this,” Nalitz said Tuesday. “You were going to continue on this path until you killed someone or yourself.”   Green, a repeat DUI offender, was driving drunk and fleeing police from Monongalia County early Feb. 18, 2012, when he crashed into May’s patrol vehicle, which was sitting on the side of Interstate 79 just over the Pennsylvania border.  “You have devastated one family and you wounded Deputy May’s department and his community grievously,” Nalitz said.

Jerod Green Found Guilty of Third Degree Murder — What is the difference between First and Third Degree Murder?

12/13/2012:  The jury has rendered its verdict in the trial of Jerod Green.  Green was found guilty of 3rd degree murder (instead of the 1st degree murder charges he was facing) for killing Sgt. Todd May on February 18, 2012.  Green will be sentenced later this year.  He is facing up to forty years in prison for the third degree murder charge.  The jury also returned guilty verdicts to charges of homicide while DUI, homicide while violating the vehicle code, fleeing while DUI, DUI above .16, speeding, and duty in an emergency response area.
Those charges could add a maximum of about 29 years in addition to the 20 to 40 years for murder if all of the sentences were run consecutively, according to Pennsylvania code.

What is the difference between first and third degree murder?

In most states, first-degree murder is defined as an unlawful killing that is both willful and premeditated, meaning that it was committed after planning or “lying in wait” for the victim.

A general definition of third degree murder:  Killing that resulted from indifference or negligence.  Usually there must be a legal duty (parent – child), but can also include crimes like driving drunk and causing a fatal accident.

Third day of trial:  Jerod Green’s defense attorney only presented one witness on Green’s behalf.  Green himself declined to testify on his own behalf.  Jerod Green’s crash reconstruction expert said he believes Monongalia County Sheriff ’s Department Sgt. Todd May pulled into Green’s path as Green fled police Feb. 18 on Interstate 79, and, therefore, caused the crash that took his life.

Engineer and professional crash reconstructionist Richard Bragg said the assessment of the crash scene by the prosecution’s expert was flawed and said he doesn’t believe Green intentionally hit May, as the prosecution has alleged.Bragg testified Wednesday in the third day of Green’s murder trial in Greene County, Pa. He was the sole defense witness, as Green opted not to testify on his own behalf. Both sides rested their cases and closing arguments will begin this morning. Bragg said that, as May pulled into the interstate, Green could not possibly have had enough time to react and get out of the way quickly enough to avoid a collision.

Source:  The Dominion Post, “Closing Arguments Today,” by Brandy Brubaker, 12/13/2012.

12/12/2012 update: Cpl. John Weaver testified Tuesday in the second day of Jerod Green’s murder trial about his investigation of the fatal crash scene and explained why Green’s defense is improbable.

The trooper said he believes May tried to turn his SUV away to get out of Green’s path, but Green turned his vehicle toward him again and hit him. He said Jerod Green floored his pickup truck and drove directly toward Monongalia County Sheriff ’s Department Sgt. Todd May’s SUV just before the crash that killed the deputy.

Weaver said Green entered I-79 south at Mount Morris, Pa. Previous testimony indicated that he was followed closely behind by several law enforcement officers, two of whom said they witnessed the crash. Weaver said Green should’ve kept heading straight in one of two open lanes of travel if he wanted to continue fleeing.

“He sees a police car and, instead of taking the open path, he moves toward that police car,” Weaver said. Weaver said Green left the on-ramp early. If Green had followed the on-ramp to the end, he said, there wouldn’t have been a crash.

Weaver said Green was traveling about 98 mph and his truck wouldn’t let him go any faster. At about 2.5 seconds before the crash, modules in his truck indicated that Green had his gas pedal pushed 40 percent of the way down. At about 2 seconds before the crash, Green had it pushed 100 percent down, Weaver said. He certainly would’ve saw May’s patrol car — a Jeep Grand Cherokee — with its lights flashing, Weaver said. Green never hit his brakes, Weaver said.

May, he said, had slowly driven through the grassy median between directions of travel and, would’ve most likely seen Green coming right toward him. Weaver believes, in a last-ditch effort to get out of the way, May cut hard to the left and accelerated to 31 mph.

Green then turned his truck to the right, toward where May was turning, and the left front of the truck violently impacted the right front of May’s Jeep, Weaver said.  Weaver said there are two possible reasons that Green would’ve turned his truck to the right: Because he was trying to turn away from May’s Jeep, but inadvertently turned the same way May did or because he was intentionally trying to hit him.

Weaver said it only makes sense that Green intentionally tried to hit May because Green should’ve hit his brakes and traveled straight if he was trying to avoid a collision.  The trooper also noted that May didn’t position his vehicle in a way that would’ve made sense if he was intending to block or ram Green’s truck as Green’s defense has claimed. He said May was most likely intending to join in on the pursuit.

Weaver said he conducted his investigation by gathering data recorded in modules inside both vehicles, diagramming marks and debris at the crash scene, studying the wreckage, reviewing witness statements, and entering data into a specialized computer program.

Other testimony concerning text messages back and forth between Green and two women the night of the accident indicated that he was distraught and possibly suicidal.  For details, see the Dominion Post.

Source:  The Dominion Post, Morgantown, WV:  Brandy Brubaker, reporter.

12/10/2012 update:  Jerod Green’s trial began today with opening arguments from both sides.  In the opening statement in the trial of Jerod Green, Greene County PA District Attorney Marjorie Fox told a mostly male jury that Green committed the “deliberate act of murder” the morning Todd May died. She said Green intentionally drove his pickup truck into May’s parked patrol vehicle as Green fled police trying to pull him over for driving drunk and fleeing a crash on Easton Hill. May’s vehicle, she said, was parked in the median of I-79 south, with its lights activated.

“He didn’t aim a gun at Sgt. May. He didn’t put on a dynamite vest and jump on Sgt. May, but, in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, his Silverado was a deadly weapon,” Fox said.

Green’s attorney, John Bongivengo, said Green had no intent or desire to kill May. Instead, Bongivengo said May’s vehicle pulled out into the path of Green’s. He said a crash reconstruction will support his claim.Jerod Green image

The commonwealth called about 17 witnesses Monday, some whom testified briefly about items in evidence and other procedural matters. Their case will resume this morning.

Sheriff’s Department Sgt. J.E. Burks told jurors Green smelled strongly of alcohol and slurred his speech when he was pulled over on the Easton Hill in Morgantown. He first lied about being at the scene of the hit-and-run, but then said the other driver caused it and he fled because of four previous DUI convictions, Burks said. Another deputy testified that Green told him he had taken some prescription medications that morning — one of which was to treat his bipolar disorder — and said he hadn’t been drinking.

All of a sudden, Burks said he heard that deputy, Dave Wilfong, yelling for Green to stop and then saw Green driving off. A pursuit began, which eventually led to I-79.
Burks said he was directly behind Green as he entered the interstate. Burks said he saw Green speed up, heard his engine roar, and watched as he drove across both lanes of traffic and directly into May’s patrol vehicle, which he said was parked in the median.

May’s vehicle spun violently, he said. There were debris and smoke. Star City Police Department Lt. Varndell said he also saw the impact as he followed behind in the chase. He called for EMS and ran to the deputy’s vehicle, not knowing who was inside. Varndell said May was lying across the back seat. He couldn’t reach a pulse point. A fire erupted in the hood and a passing tractor trailer driver rushed over with an extinguisher.

Varndell returned to May and noticed he was breathing. A nurse, traveling on I-79, stopped to help. They moved May onto the ground and EMS arrived, he said.

In other testimony:
Green’s ex-girlfriend, Holly Brotherton, said she and Green texted back and forth and spoke briefly while he was at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant the night May was killed. She said Green told her via text that she was right to leave him because he was “the devil” and a bad person who would’ve ruined her life.

She said she urged him to stop talking like that and told him to call her if he needed her. The next morning, she found a text that she hadn’t received earlier because her cellphone had no service.  The text was from Green and said he lost the best thing that had ever happened to him and said he didn’t deserve to “live this life with everyone else,” Brotherton said.

Rachel Hutchinson testified that she saw Green at Bugsy’s, a bar on Point Marion Road, later in the night. He was slurring his speech, laying against the table and not making much sense, she said.

Skylar Johnson testified that a large pickup truck struck her car as she traveled down Easton Hill in the early morning hours of Feb. 18. She said the truck drove off. Police later charged Green with the crash. Johnson said her car was destroyed, but she declined treatment from paramedics.

A forensic scientist with the Pennsylvania State Police said Green’s blood alcohol content was .189. The legal limit for driving in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia is .08.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Joseph Popielarcheck said he arrested Green at the crash scene and said he smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and swayed as he stood up.

Source:  The Dominion Post, Morgantown, WV, 12/11/2012 by Brandy Brubaker

11/15/2012:  Nine men and three women have been selected to serve on the jury for Jerod Green’s trial set to begin on December 10, 2012 at 9:00 a.m in Greene County, PA.  The jurors and alternates chosen have been instructed to discuss the case with no one, to attempt no investigation of the case, and to contact the court if anyone tries to contact them about the case.

10/12/12 Update:  According to Brandy Brubaker of the Dominion Post in Morgantown, Jerod Green is set to go to trial in December for the death of Monongalia County Sheriff ’s Department Sgt. Todd May.  Greene County (Pa.) Judge William Nalitz scheduled Green’s trial for Dec. 10. A jury will be selected Nov. 14.  Green’s attorney, John Bongivengo, said all pre-trial issues have been resolved and they will be ready to go to trial in December.  Bongivengo previously asked the court to move the trial to another county because of pre-trial publicity, but Nalitz said he would decide if it is necessary after first trying to pick a jury. 

9/7/12 Update:  A Pennsylvania judge denied almost all of Jerod Green’s attorney’s requests for evidence suppression, but did agree to throw out Green’s alleged admission that he had been drinking the night of the crash that killed Monongalia County Sheriff ’s Sgt. Todd May.  According to WAJR radio news, that testimony will not be allowed because it was allegedly stated by Green before he was read his rights.

Green, 35, of Morgantown, is awaiting trial on charges of murder of a law enforcement officer, homicide by vehicle while DUI, and criminal homicide, among others, for the Feb. 18 crash that killed May. 

Police in Pennsylvania and West Virginia accused Green of driving drunk, fleeing a crash on Easton Hill, driving away from officers who pulled him over on W.Va. 100, and leading police on a chase across the state line thatended when he hit May’s patrol vehicle, which was parked in the median of Interstate 79, just over the Pennsylvania line. Green, however, alleges that May’s vehicle struck his. 

Jury selection in the case is slated to begin Nov. 14, although court officials said a trial date has not yet been set. In Greene County, a jury is selected sometimes weeks or months before the actual trial begins. 

Greene County Judge William Nalitz ruled this week that the commonwealth may introduce at trial the results of Green’s blood alcohol content (BAC) testing and all evidence obtained from searches of Green’s truck, unless the court later determines that specific evidence seized in the searches is inflammatory. Police previously alleged that Green was driving with a BAC of .189 — more than twice the legal driving limit of .08 — the night of the crash. They have not made public any potential evidence seized with the search warrants. 

Nalitz also ruled that the commonwealth may not introduce Green’s alleged admission to Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Joseph Popielarcheck that he had been drinking the night of the crash. 

Popielarcheck briefly spoke with Green while hewas handcuffed in the back of a sheriff ’s deputy’s vehicle just after the crash and asked him if he had been drinking. Shortly thereafter, the trooper placed him under arrest and read him his Miranda rights, the trooper previously testified. 

Green’s attorney, John Bongivengo, argued that Green was already in custody when he was in the back of the cruiser, and as such, his alleged statement should be suppressed because he hadn’t yet been read his Miranda rights. 

Nalitz agreed with that argument, although he didn’t accept Bongivengo’s insistence that all of the evidence obtained after the cruiser questioning should also be stricken. Nalitz said in his order that Popielarcheck still had reason to believe Green was intoxicated without Green’s own alleged admission because he said Green smelled of alcohol and was unsteady in his gait. 

Bongivengo also argued that the evidence obtained from search warrants should be barred from trial because the search warrants were “overly broad.” They included the seizure of items such as Green’s cell phones and his GPS and his truck’s event data recorder. 

Nalitz, however, said the warrants asked for the appropriate things an officer would need in a fatal crash investigation. 

“An inspection of the vehicle might even prove exculpatory if it is determined that there was some mechanical failure which caused a loss of control,” Nalitz wrote. “Furthermore, we believe the commonwealth is justified in learning whether [the] defendant was distracted during the alleged pursuit by examining his cell phones for messages sent from or to him at relevant times.” 

Nalitz said, at this point, it is impossible to tell if the evidence will be fruitful to either side. 

He said he’ll make additional rulings if the commonwealth tries to introduce any evidence he deems irrelevant or inflammatory.

The Dominion Post, “Judge:  Most Evidence Stays”, by Brandy Brubaker, 9/7/2012

Original story:  Early Saturday, February 18, 2012, a tragic car accident caused the untimely death of Monongalia County Sheriff Deputy Sgt. Michael Todd May.

According to WV Metro News and The Dominion Post of Morgantown, WV, Sgt. May was assisting in the pursuit of a hit and run suspect fleeing police when his police cruiser was struck on I-79 just north of the Pennsylvania border.  Jerod Alan Green of Morgantown, formerly from Oklahoma, has been charged with homicide by vehicle while DUI, first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, second degree manslaughter of a law enforcement officer, DUI of a combination of alcohol and drugs, and several other charges. On line records from the Oklahoma State Courts Network indicate a man with the same name and birth date as Green pleaded guilty to third-offense DUI and subsequent offense DUI almost five years ago.

Sgt. May was a ten-year veteran of the force. Monongalia County Sheriff Al Kisner said, “He was one of the good guys. People just genuinely liked him. He had a great sense of humor. The guys that worked for him really liked him, they respected him a lot. He was an excellent deputy. He knew his job and was an intelligent person.  Everybody’s upset, everybody’s hurt. Some people are angry about the way things transpired. This is something that didn’t have to happen.”

Update February 20, 2012:  The Dominion Post of Morgantown documents that Green had previously been charged with at least five DUI charges, as well as assault and battery and methamphetamine charges which were later dropped.

National Commission Against Drunk Driving Statistics

  • 41 percent of all traffic crashes are alcohol-related.
  • Nearly 600,000 Americans are injured in alcohol-related traffic crashes each year.
  • Someone dies in an alcohol-related traffic crash every 30 minutes. Every two minutes someone is hurt (non-fatally injured) in an alcohol-related accident.
  • Three out of every 10 Americans face the possibility of being directly involved in an alcohol-related traffic crash during their lifetime. 

Education promotes prevention.

According to USA Today, more than 1.5 million people were arrested in the United States last year for driving drunk and at least that many are estimated to have driven under the influence of drugs.

Drunk and drugged drivers continue to drive our roads and highways, causing more than 17,000 Americans to die each year.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, impaired driving will affect one in three Americans during their lifetimes.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2002 and 2005, West Virginia used a high-visibility enforcement program and cut alcohol related deaths by 18% and the numbers of drivers who tested over the .08 BAC dropped 30%.  This program included increased monitoring and enforcement in conjunction with paid advertisements on radio, TV, and billboards to increase public awareness of the dangers of DUI.  Many states have dropped high-visibility enforcement programs because of a lack of funding, but NHTSA continues to encourage states to maintain high-visibility programs to decrease the number of DUI related crashes, injuries, and deaths.

West Virginia University presently uses an on-line alcohol awareness program for all in-coming freshmen and transfer students.  The students must complete the program by certain dates or must pay a fifty-dollar penalty for missed deadlines.  Morgantown public high schools also have DUI awareness programs before prom activities in the spring to increase student awareness of the hazards and legal ramifications of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

The National Health Information Center has designated April 1 – 30, 2012 as  Alcohol Awareness Month  (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.) 

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Workplace Injury/Wrongful Death Lawyers. Free books — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.

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Major Gas Line Explosion along I-77

I-77 Sissonville gas line explosion

On Tuesday, December 11, 2012 a major gas line explosion along I-77 near Sissonville, WV ignited homes in a nearby residential area and shut down all four lanes of traffic.  The flames were so hot under I-77 that it melted the concrete. There have been no reported fatalities.  Thanks to the DOT employees who worked all night,  Interstate 77 has been reopened.  Flames were shooting up to 75 high as crews shut off the gas supply.  Commissioner Kent Carper reports fire was extinguished shortly before 2:00 p.m., but heavy odor of gas is thick in the air near the area of the explosion.

Columbia Gas confirmed that one of its transmission lines was the source of the blast. Columbia Gas employees and first responders are working to assess the situation and accommodate the residents. Columbia Gas is still working to determine the cause of the explosion.

Patients in a nearby nursing home not far from the area have been declared to be safe, but it is not known if anyone has been injured by the explosion. Authorities were worried about the possibility of another explosion, and were evacuating nearby residents.

“In all my years of experience, this is the biggest fire I’ve ever seen,” said Kanawha County Fire Coordinator C.W. Sigman.

Sigman said a 20-inch gas transmission line ruptured, sending a massive sheet of flames shooting skyward.

Sigman said several homes were burned, but emergency officials were still trying to determine if there were any injuries or fatalities. Emergency crews rescued several people who sought shelter behind the burning homes, he said.  A total of four homes were destroyed and five more were damaged by the blaze.

Sigman said the flames were so hot under I-77 that it melted the concrete. Guardrails melted, utility poles burned, an ordinarily reflective green interstate sign was burned down to white metal and the blast blew a huge hole in the road, throwing dirt, rocks and debris across the interstate. Four lanes are gone.  It was remarkable that no motorists were injured.

The explosion happened just before 1 p.m., and the immediate fire reportedly crossed the interstate itself. A photo taken by Kanawha County Emergency Services shows stories-tall flames covering both northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate.

Metro 911 reported several buildings caught fire. Crews apparently extinguished the fire just before 2 p.m. but a large amount of fumes remained in the air, said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.

State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said around 2:45 p.m. that there was no word on injuries or fatalities related to the explosion and following fire. Paramedics and emergency responders are going into homes and apartments now to check on residents, he said.

Emergency responders’ biggest concern is the possibility of a secondary explosion. Residents living in the vicinity are being asked to ready their things to evacuate.

SISSONVILLE, W.Va. – A gas line explosion this afternoon in Sissonville caused a massive fire that burned several buildings, melted part of Interstate 77 and sent huge flames into the sky.

Authorities were worried about the possibility of another explosion, and were evacuating nearby residents.

“In all my years of experience, this is the biggest fire I’ve ever seen,” said Kanawha County Fire Coordinator C.W. Sigman.

Sigman said a 20-inch gas transmission line ruptured, sending a massive sheet of flames shooting skyward.

Sigman said several homes were burned, but emergency officials were still trying to determine if there were any injuries or fatalities. Emergency crews rescued several people who sought shelter behind the burning homes, he said.

Sigman said The explosion happened just before 1 p.m., and the immediate fire reportedly crossed the interstate itself. A photo taken by Kanawha County Emergency Services shows stories-tall flames covering both northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate.

Metro 911 reported several buildings caught fire. Crews apparently extinguished the fire just before 2 p.m. but a large amount of fumes remained in the air, said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.

State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said around 2:45 p.m. that there was no word on injuries or fatalities related to the explosion and following fire. Paramedics and emergency responders are going into homes and apartments now to check on residents, he said.

Emergency responders’ biggest concern is the possibility of a secondary explosion. Residents living in the vicinity are being asked to ready their things to evacuate.

Baylous did not know the exact location where the explosion occurred but it’s near where Derricks Creek Road meets W.Va. 21, he said.

Two KRT buses were at Sissonville High School ready to evacuate people at 3 p.m. Several other buses were on standby.

Several people were transported from the scene for smoke inhalation-related injuries, Metro 911 dispatchers said. Some were being treated at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Sissonville, where an emergency shelter was in established.

Gas company crews were working to turn gas pipelines off, according to Kanawha County Emergency Management officials. Gas crews had shut off one side of the gas pipe by 1:30 p.m.

Residents in the area were asked to shelter in place, according to Kanawha County Metro 911.

Kanawha County Schools sent out an automatic notification that students and others at Flinn Elementary, Sissonville Elementary, Sissonville Middle and Sissonville High schools will shelter in place until roads reopen. Once the roads have reopened, the students will be taken home, according to the message.

Students at Sissonville High School were sheltering in the gym just before 3 p.m.

W.Va. 21 was closed except for emergency vehicle traffic.

Source:  WV Charleston Gazette

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Workplace Injury/Wrongful Death Lawyers. Free books — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.

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Consol Miner Markel Koon Found

The long wait is finally over for the family of Markel Koon of Shinnston. 

The CONSOL bulldozer operator who slid into a failed slurry impoundment in Harrison County was recovered Friday, two weeks after an accident caused the employee’s death, CONSOL officials said.

Company officials said dive and rescue teams successfully completed a pipe and dive recovery effort at about 4:40 p.m. Friday. The name of the miner is Markel Koon, 58, of Shinnston. He worked for CONSOL for 37 years and 9 months, company officials said.  May God bless this family as they finally lay their loved one to rest.(Source:  WAJR news)

Who was Mark Koon?

Markel Koon was a union coal miner, having begun his career at Consolidation Coal Co. on Feb. 11, 1975. He was a former captain of the mine rescue team. He worked on multiple recovery and rescue efforts, including the Sago Mine Disaster.

He was a 1972 graduate of Shinnston High School. Mark enjoyed bear hunting, deer hunting and fishing, and spending time with his dogs. Mark loved his family, friends, fellow coal miners, and dogs.   It is clear that he was loved by his large extended family.

West Virginia coal miners are among the hardest working professionals in America. Despite strong MSHA regulations, coal mining continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Every year, miners are injured or killed because the coal operators continue to circumvent or violate safety laws for the protection of the miners. If a little more time and money was spent on the front end on safety for these hard-working employees, the companies could have avoided these tragic losses of irreplaceable lives and extremely expensive recovery efforts. When will they learn?

Recovery Progress Updates:

12/13/2012 p.m. update:  New tools have been brought in and work to extract the bulldozer operator has resumed.

Crews have been working to cut the bulldozer cab, which started at 1:55 p.m., according to MSHA Spokesperson Amy Louvre. The first dive was at 9:25 a.m. and divers encountered heavy frost and ice Thursday morning.

Crews had to reposition the pipe several times and they plan to continue working through Thursday evening.

12/13/12 update:  Divers are preparing to resume efforts today in the recovery of a Robinson Run Mine employee submerged inside a bulldozer in the Nolan Run slurry impoundment. Divers were on site Wednesday, working to prepare the site after operations were suspended Tuesday night when divers experienced mechanical issues, according to Lynn Seay, spokeswoman for CONSOL Energy.

The professional divers used torches to cut a small hole in the cab of the dozer and were able to positively identify that the victim was inside on Monday, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.  “But they were unable to maintain an arc, and the water and slurry significantly inhibited the cutting process” as the divers worked to enlarge the opening Tuesday, said MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere.  “(They) plan to acquire different tools in order to attempt to cut through the top of the cab and extract the victim.”

“They believe it could take up to two days to cut through the top of the cab.  Typically, recovery operations have been taking place from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Source:  The Exponent Telegram: “Divers Bring in New Tools to Resume Recovery Effort,” Darlene Taylor-Morgan, 12/13/12.

12/12/2012 p.m. update: Dive teams trying to remove a bulldozer driver from a West Virginia coal slurry pond have been forced to suspend operations.  The slurry and water were hindering the attempts to cut a larger hole through the bulldozer cab, so it may take up to two more days to cut through to recover the miner. They suspended operations Tuesday night and are now looking for more effective tools.  (The Clarksburg Exponent Telegram)

12/11/2012 p.m. update:   Although diving efforts continued Tuesday, the body of a bulldozer operator had not been recovered as of late afternoon, according to company and federal officials.  CONSOL Energy has been cited by federal regulators for failing to maintain part of the slurry impoundment where a worker died November 30th.  CONSOL was cited December 3rd for failing to maintain a ditch leading to the Nolan Run impoundment.

Monday update:  CONSOL Energy has confirmed that divers have found the body of a missing bulldozer operator who was sucked into a slurry impoundment 10 days ago. The company says the man is located inside the cab of the dozer. Efforts to recover his body are ongoing – there is no time frame for when those efforts will be completed.  Spokeswoman Lynn Seay wouldn’t predict Monday how long it may take to remove him, calling it a complex effort that requires both time and precision.

Dive and rescue teams completed a series of pipe dives throughout the weekend that helped to determine the position and location of the bulldozer in the Robinson Run Preparation Plant impoundment. The teams were able to reposition the pipe and adjust the water jets Sunday evening in preparation for a Monday morning dive. Monday morning, crews cut an opening in the canopy of the bulldozers and divers were able to confirm that the employee is inside.

Monday a.m. update:  Divers located the cab of a bulldozer in a slurry pond at the Robinson Run preparation plant Sunday, but they have yet to determine if the operator is inside.

Several divers from River Services Company began diving Saturday and “the short-term pipe dive recovery effort (was) still under way” Sunday, according to an email from Lynn Seay, spokeswoman for CONSOL.

Sunday update:  CONSOL Energy and federal mine regulators were mum Saturday about a scheduled diving expedition to find the body of a bulldozer operator in a coal slurry impoundment at Robinson Run Mine.

Spokeswomen for CONSOL and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Friday that divers from River Services Co. would start searching the area Saturday.  But CONSOL’s Lynn Seay could not confirm Saturday if the work had actually started.  “I know they were scheduled to start the dive today,” Seay said. “I don’t know if that happened.” When asked if she might have more information later, Seay said she didn’t “anticipate anything today.”  Amy Louviere, with MSHA, said in an email she also had nothing to report.

However, a Harrison County 911 supervisor said Saturday night that some form of recovery work did take place at the site and would resume today.  (Source:  The Exponent Telegram, Jim Davis)

Recovery Dive Planned for 10:00 a.m Saturday

Saturday update:  Divers are expected to enter a coal slurry pond in Marion County at about 10 a.m. today as part of a plan to locate a bulldozer driver buried last week when part of the embankment collapsed at the dam serving the Robinson Run mine.  The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said a dog brought to the site Thursday night indicated the team is working in the right spot.

Engineers and Geologists Say Slurry Pond Failure Tragedy Could Have Been Prevented

Friday update:  The investigation into a West Virginia slurry pond collapse that swallowed a bulldozer operator is in the early stages, but people familiar with the construction process said it’s likely that someone pushed an expansion project too far, too fast.  Media outlets said the workers were pushing coarse mine refuse toward the upstream side of the dam to expand its foundation and increase its height.

Dennis Boyle of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in Charleston compared it to pushing material into a swimming pool. Move too far too fast, he said, and the material becomes saturated.  Geologists said there’s a narrow range of stability in the process, and Jim Pierce, a dam safety engineer with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said it appears the stability of either the embankment or the pond’s underlying foundation was lost.

A critic of the coal industry said regulators are ignoring stricter construction standards that could prevent more failures at hundreds of similar dam-like structures around the country. For at least a decade, state and federal regulators have allowed coal companies to build or expand the massive ponds of gray liquid and silt atop loose and wet coal waste, said Jack Spadaro, an engineering consultant and former director of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy.

There are more coal slurry impoundments in WV than in any other state (114) out of a total of 596 in 21 states.  Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said impoundment failures are rare. “These are the most scrutinized and most engineered earthen structures in the world, certainly in this country,” he said. “They’re monitored routinely. They have lots of eyes looking at them. … Anytime there’s a heavy rainfall, the agencies are out there looking at them.”

MSHA Issues Preliminary Accident Report

Thursday update:  MSHA has issued a preliminary report stating some of the facts known so far.  The preliminary accident report describes the series of events that happened on Friday, Nov. 30 at Robinson Run Mine Number 95.   A section of the dam, approximately 650 feet long, 20 to 25 feet above the water’s surface, and 70 feet back from the water’s edge, broke and slid into the impoundment.

MSHA said four miners were working in the area where the failure happened and three of the miners and their equipment were swept into the impoundment. Two of the miners were standing near the face of the dam, looking over and recognized a failure was about to occur. They began to run but were pulled into the water.  One of the miners swam to shore and the other was located and rescued by Nutter Fort Fire and Rescue.  The bulldozer operator working near the face was inside his equipment when it slid into the impoundment and remains unaccounted for.  The two rescued miners were taken to the hospital and treated and released.  Another bulldozer operator had been working in the area at the time, but he was far enough back so that he was not pulled into the slurry by the failure.

Longwall operations resumed on Wednesday, but that coal was being stockpiled—not washed — until the inlet side of the slurry impoundment (where slurry is piped in when washing takes place) can be isolated from the recovery area. In order to do that, a boom curtain is being installed across the impoundment. A chemical also will be added to the incoming slurry to help settle sediment quickly, and the pond levels will be monitored hourly.

 Specialized Louisiana Dive Team Preparing for a Pipe Dive

Wednesday p.m. update:  A group of specially trained divers from Louisiana plan to enter the coal slurry impoundment this weekend.  They are studying a bulldozer of the same model as the missing one and will attempt a pipe dive on Saturday.  Two twenty-foot pipes will be welded together and water jets attached to the bottom of the pipe will be used to flush out the solid material and clear a path for the divers to enter.  The pipe will be lowered from the floating barge to the top of the bulldozer.  Divers would enter the pipe through an access door, with an air supply and communications to operations based on barges on the surface, while water jets installed at the bottom of the pipe push away silt.

The divers will have just about zero visibility once they enter the slurry.  Fourteen barges are being constructed on the slurry pond to serve as a platform for the recovery efforts.    Once complete, the bulldozer will be located by touch of the divers, who will then enter the cab to try and recover the employee, but they don’t know the orientation of the bulldozer on the pond floor.  The bulldozer is 25 to 35 feet below the surface.

According to Consol Energy Vice President of Safety Lou Barletta, if this effort does not work, crews will construct a dam-like area to separate the dozer from the slurry.  They will construct a chauffeur dam inside the impoundment, Barletta said. The dam consists of sheet piling that will form a perimeter around the machine. Then crews would work on removing some items from the area so they can get to the bulldozer.  “We are hopeful we will find our colleague in the cab of the bulldozer,” Barletta said. “But, we cannot yet determine if our employee is in the cab of the dozer and will not know that until we proceed with the short term [plan].”

Understandably, the family of the bulldozer operator has requested that his name not be released at this time until all family members have been notified.

Search Efforts Continue for Missing Mine Worker in Harrison County

Wednesday a.m. update:  Search efforts continue for a missing mine worker in Harrison County. MSHA says several small boats will be used to help move barges into place to search for the man who disappeared into a slurry pond last Friday. They’ll be using 50-foot pipes to anchor the recovery site, which will include several barge platforms. The recovery effort itself is dangerous for the workers. MSHA says anyone inside the buffer zone, on the barges, or on the platforms will have to have a spotter and a life jacket. Consol Energy is expected to brief media this afternoon.

Tuesday update:  The official investigation into what happened at Robinson Run will begin toda y. MSHA’s mobile command vehicle has arrived on site and will serve as a headquarters in the coming days as crews continue to search for a mine worker that fell into a sludge pit last Friday. Dredging at the sludge pond began yesterday. Operations are starting to resume at the mine. The company says returning to work will not impact the ongoing search efforts.

Monday update:  Search and recovery teams will continue to look for a missing mine worker in Harrison County tomorrow.  Dive crews have been used to try and locate the man, missing since Friday when a slurry embankment failed at the Robinson Run preparation plant. The man was operating a bulldozer when the embankment collapsed.  It’s believed the dozer was swallowed up and sank as deep as 35 feet below the surface. Search teams hope to pinpoint the dozer’s location and search around it.  The slurry is much thicker than anyone had imagined.

Sunday update:  “Diving isn’t likely going to happen today,” said federal Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson Amy Louviere in a 10:45 a.m. Sunday update, following a Saturday night update saying diving would begin this morning. “Other options are being considered.”

Probing with pipes was to be conducted this morning prior to diving, Louviere said earlier.  Consol has taken platform barges in to work from on the water, she added, and dredges are being assembled for use, although the assembly time will be lengthy.  An additional slurry pump is being installed to handle heavier material, such as sediment.

Louviere confirmed that the miner was in the bulldozer when the impoundment collapsed, so the hope is that when the bulldozer has been located — and they believe they have located it — they will find the miner.

Personnel were using metal rods to better locate the bulldozer and the machine may not be as deep as originally thought. Crews were working to confirm the bulldozer is 25 to 35 feet below the surface.  There were plans to use sheet pilings to surround and isolate the bulldozer, which would allow divers to enter the area to search for the missing operator

 One Miner Missing and Two Injured in Robinson Run Preparation Plant Slurry Impoundment Failure

Original story:  One person is missing and two were injured Friday following an embankment failure on top of Robinson Run Preparation Plant slurry impoundment.   Coal slurry impoundments are used to contain both solid refuse and the wastewater byproduct known as slurry created when preparations plants wash raw coal to help it burn efficiently before it is shipped to customers.  The CONSOL Energy mine is at the border of Harrison and Marion counties.

According to statements from CONSOL and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA): At about 12:15 p.m., a failure occurred when one bulldozer operator and two engineers were on top of the impoundment.

CONSOL confirmed that a refuse embankment gave way, causing a bulldozer and two pickup trucks to slide into a slurry pond.
According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the part that collapsed was a pad under construction within the pool area of the impoundment. The pad is more than 1,000 feet from the main embankment. The area that failed is roughly 200 yards long and 200 feet wide.

An ambulance took one engineer to Fairmont General Hospital, where he was treated and released. The other engineer was taken by HealthNet helicopter to Ruby Memorial Hospital and was in stable condition, according to CONSOL.

Crews were on site searching for the third man. The embankment remains unstable, creating difficult rescue conditions, according to the energy company. The rescue effort included dive teams and a boat with sonar. Crews were expected to search throughout the night.

CONSOL also worked on lowering the pond’s water level to aid search efforts. The pond had a standing depth of 12 feet. Response teams are draining the pond at 1,600 gallons per minute, according to the DEP. The water from the impoundment is being pumped into a freshwater pond where it will be filtered and treated before being released. The DEP is monitoring the discharge.  As a result of the incident, the company canceled the 4 p.m.-midnight shift.

MSHA staff, state officials, company representatives and United Mine Workers of America personnel were at the site.
According to CONSOL spokeswoman Lynn Seay, there have been no leaks from the pond as a result of the incident, but material continuing to fall from the embankment into the pond hampered rescue efforts.

Acoording to DEP Spokeswoman Kathy Cosco, engineers in consultation with the MSHA investigator have determined that there is no imminent risk of failure of the impoundment and no evacuations are anticipated.

Steven O’Dell, Alex Energy Employee, Also Killed in Separate Incident on Friday

Also on Friday, Steven O’Dell, an electrician,was killed when he became caught between a scoop and a continuous mining machine around 1:30 a.m. at the Pocahontas Mine A White Buck Portal near Rupert in Greenbrier County, said Leslie Fitzwater of the state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.  The mine is owned by White Buck Coal Co., a subsidiary of Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources. O’Dell was an employee of Alex Energy.

O’Dell is the state’s sixth mining fatality this year.

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Workplace Injury/Wrongful Death Lawyers.  Free books — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care:  WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters:  WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.

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Sources:  The Dominion Post, 12/01/2012, Alex Lang;  http://www.wtrf.com/story/20234683/2012/12/01/search-continues-in-harrison-county-for-missing-consol-miner?clienttype=printable; http://www.WAJR.com; www.WBOY.com, www.MSHA.gov

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