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Federal Judge Gets Tough on Coal Violators, Sentences Man to Prison

August 9, 1994

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ A federal judge says he hopes the 10-month prison sentence he gave to an unsafe coal mine operator will help prevent other miners from suffering the fate of Timmy Ratliff.

Ratliff died Dec. 4, 1991, in a roof fall at the Miller Branch Enterprises No. 1 Mine at Gulnare. He was helping clean up a previous fall in the area, and operator James W. Blackburn failed to shore up the roof before sending workers back in.

″I can’t bring anybody back from that death,″ U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood said Monday after sentencing Blackburn. ″But I can send a message.″

Hood was making good on a promise he made last month to give no more ″free rides″ for coal operators who violate federal safety laws.

″Coal is important to our community,″ Hood said. ″But we’re not going to continue to sacrifice our young people to that god without accountability.″

Blackburn, 42, of Regina pleaded guilty before Hood issued his warning. Besides the prison term, Blackburn was fined $3,000 and sentenced to one year’s probation.

A former partner of Blackburn’s, Aaron Justice Jr., 42, also of Regina, pleaded guilty to coal-dust and ventilation violations and was sentenced to a year’s probation and a $1,000 fine.

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