Judges have begun approving payouts from a multimillion-dollar settlement stemming from the collapse two years ago of a Utah mine that entombed six miners and led to three rescuers' deaths.
Recently released court records show the claims also cover a miner who narrowly avoided a crushing death only to commit suicide months later. The money will support two children of Brian Keith Pritt, who was haunted by survivor's guilt and shot himself in the head, according to a family lawyer.
"He lost many of his close friends," Fred Silvester said Wednesday.
While judges have signed off on trust funds for children of miners and rescuers who died in the disaster at Crandall Canyon, many details remain confidential. Only the payouts for children under 18 require a judge's approval.
The settlement, announced May 12, was characterized as the largest in Utah mining history. Case files at 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City are packed with sealed envelopes holding confidential payout terms approved Aug. 13. Other settlements for minor children are pending in 7th District Court in Price, near Crandall Canyon.
The lawsuits were filed against Pepper Pike, Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp. and three of its subsidiaries or affiliates; engineering consultants Agapito Associates Inc. of Grand Junction, Colo.; mine co-owner Intermountain Power Agency and its partner in a coal-fired Utah power station, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
The bodies of six miners who died in the initial collapse Aug. 6, 2007, remain entombed inside the mountain. Ten days later, another cave-in killed three rescuers and left six others grievously injured. The multimillion-dollar settlement covers all of them or their families, plus Pritt.
Pritt was driving into the mine to rejoin his crew after finishing some outside errands when he was stopped by the collapse, according to an investigative report released a year later by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
In blinding dust and wearing a respirator, he dug at rubble in a futile effort to reach the trapped miners a half-mile away. He beat on a water pipe, but got no response.
"He was severely affected emotionally by the whole thing," Silvester said. "The company referred him for psychological treatment to deal with the stress. The next April, he put a rifle inside his mouth, ended it all and left two kids."
Silvester said doctors hired by the mine operator concluded the suicide was directly related to mine disaster.
Silvester also represents fire boss Lester Day, who was permanently disabled along with Frank Markosek, an MSHA inspector, in the rescue effort.
Day "was found underneath a blown-out rib" — miners call tunnel walls ribs — according to the MSHA investigation. Buried in coal, he yelled to a co-worker looking for him, "You're standing on me!"
Day and Markosek also suffered brain injuries from flying chunks of coal, Silvester said.