Ashton Marra Published

Former UBB Miners Continue to Testify in Blankenship Trial


Jurors continued to hear testimony Monday from former employees of Massey Energy at the Upper Big Branch mine who claim production was the top priority for the company. The testimony comes in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

Former UBB section boss Rick “Smurf” Hutchens testified he often took time away from coal production, directing his men to perform safety related tasks like clearing loose coal or spreading rock dust on the roof, walls and floor of the mine. 

Hutchens testified that because of his lower production rates, he was often pressured by higher ups, including Performance Coal President Chris Blanchard, and threatened him with the loss of his job. Performance Coal operated the Upper Big Branch mine. 

“I couldn’t meet the demands due to the conditions every day,” Hutchens testified, ” and I put the safety of the men first.”

A member of Hutchens’s crew, Brent Racer, testified last week he often witnessed Massey superiors pressuring Hutchens to produce more coal. 

During cross examination, Hutchens admitted he did not like Blanchard, saying Blanchard often treated other miners with more respect.