Editorial: Risky mine rescue brings many serious questions

December 18, 2018
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Craig Hudson/HD Media Family and friends awaited word of the search team's efforts in finding Cody Beverly, Kayla Williams and Erica Treadway at the Salamy Memorial Center in Whitesville, W.Va., on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. The three were reported missing Dec. 8 inside Elk Run Coal Co.'s Rock House Powellton mine but were located alive late Wednesday night.

An unauthorized, shall we say, visit to an inactive coal mine almost ended up badly for four people recently, but all made it out safely after relatives spent several days worrying about them.

The four entered the former Rock House Powellton Mine in Raleigh County on Saturday, Dec. 8. When they didn’t come out, rescue crews were sent to find them. Eddie Williams, 43, of Artie walked out on his own. His cousin, Kayla Williams, 25, also of Artie, and Erica Treadway, 31, of Pax and Cody Beverly, 21, of Clear Creek were rescued on Wednesday.

Their going missing and their rescue drew national and international attention.

We’re glad that all four people got out of that mine alive, but this is not a time for celebration. It’s a time for serious questions.

Naturally, the first question is what the four were doing in the mine in the first place.

According to The Register-Herald of Beckley, Williams was indicted in May in Raleigh County on charges of trespassing, destruction of property and grand larceny related to the theft last January of copper wire from an Alpha Resources mine. His trial is pending.

The newspaper also reported that Treadway was charged in October with possessing a controlled substance without a valid prescription, while Williams was indicted in September on cocaine-related charges. Her father, Randall Williams, has said she went into the Powellton mine in search of copper.

Media outlets report Beverly’s father, Brandon Lee Beverly, is currently serving prison time for a string of break-ins and thefts from mine sites, including stolen copper.

Copper is a valuable scrap metal. Legislation passed several years ago was supposed to clamp down on people stealing and selling it, but apparently there is still a black market in copper that can entice people to do something as dangerous and foolish as entering an abandoned coal mine.

Abandoned mines are places where toxic gases can accumulate, where roofs cave in and where water pools. There is no light at all. You almost have a menu to choose your cause of death. Few people with any common sense would enter one for no good reason.

As this is written, law enforcement authorities in Raleigh County have not yet filed criminal charges against the four people who were rescued, although charges are being considered. The state is counting the amount it spent on the rescue effort, and the four could be billed for that expense. Whether they have the money to repay it is another question.

There is also the question of how difficult it is to enter an abandoned mine. According to The Charleston Gazette-Mail, Williams is an experienced coal miner, so he may know how to get around safeguards. The other three had not been underground before, according to the newspaper. If mine break-ins are not uncommon, why is that so?

And you have to wonder how many people have gone into a mine illegally and never came back out with no one ever knowing.

This is an excellent time to step back and review the security involved in closing mines and dealing with rescues of trespassers. These once were called teachable moments. It’s a time for people to remind each other to not do stupid things like going into abandoned mines in search of copper or other materials to steal and sell. Maybe it’s time to crack down again on scrap metal companies that buy such material with no questions asked.

And maybe it’s time for a few bills to go out so people pay the costs involved with their illegal activity.

There are many questions and obviously many complicated answers for the legislature, law enforcement and others to consider in the coming months.

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