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Bulldozer goes over 160-foot coal mine wall, killing the operator

Oct 8, 2013 - The Associated Press

Operations at the Jim Bridger Mine have stopped while the accident is investigated.

ROCK SPRINGS -- An accident involving a bulldozer that plunged off a 160-foot-high wall killed a worker at the Jim Bridger Coal Mine near Rock Springs.

It was the third mining death in the coal industry in as many days.

Sweetwater County sheriff's officials say the bulldozer went over the mine's high wall around 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Dozer operator Mark Christopher Stassinos, 44, was ejected from the cab and killed.

Stassinos was the only person inside the bulldozer. He was a two-year employee of the mine. An autopsy was planned Tuesday.

Mine officials said operations have stopped while the accident is investigated.

The mine accident was the third causing a fatality in the U.S. in as many days. The last time three people were killed in the mining industry over three days was in 2002.

The accidents occur during a federal government shutdown that has kept more than half of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's employees off the job. Inspections largely are focused on mines with a documented history of problems.

Portland, Ore.-based utility PacifiCorp owns a two-thirds interest in the Bridger mine. The mine operator is Bridger Coal Company, a PacifiCorp joint venture with Idaho Power Company.

The mine provides the adjacent Jim Bridger Power Plant with a continuing fuel source for the four-unit, 2,100-megawatt generating station that produces electricity for PacifiCorp and Idaho Power customers in six Western states.

Wyoming is the top coal-producing state, supplying around 40 percent of the nation's coal, and Wyoming is home to nine of the top 10 U.S. coal mines for production. Wyoming's biggest coal mines are in the Powder River Basin in the state's northeast corner.

The Bridger mine in southwest Wyoming is among the state's smaller mines. The mine has reserves of more than 120 million tons and produces approximately 6 million tons of coal per year.

Federal regulators are urging U.S. coal companies to refocus on health and safety regulations after three fatalities in three days.

The deaths in occurred last week amid the ongoing government shutdown.

In West Virginia, a miner was struck in the head with a piece of equipment and became the state's sixth fatality this year.

In Illinois, a miner died when a golf cart flipped and pinned him.

It's the first time since 2002 the industry has had three deaths in three days, and Mine Safety and Health Administration director Joe Main calls it an extremely troubling pattern.

Fewer than half of MSHA's employees are on the job, and inspections are largely focused on mines with a documented history of problems.

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