Jury acquits miner charged with smoking in mine

May 28, 2014
Donald Adams, Jr.

WAYNESBURG – A Greene County jury Wednesday acquitted a former Greene County miner charged with risking a catastrophe, recklessly endangering another person and criminal violations of the Bituminous Coal Mine Act following allegations that he smoked a cigarette in a mine Aug. 23, 2012.

Donald Adams Jr., 51, of 120 Lee Ave., Spraggs, was part of a four man crew laying pipe in an underground section of the Emerald Mine in Franklin Township when two of the men found a cigarette butt.

Following the verdict, jurors said they did not believe the attorney general’s office presented sufficient evidence to prove Adams smoked inside the mine. Jurors questioned why DNA was not obtained from the cigarette butt and a water bottle presented as evidence against him.

Adams’ attorney, Benjamin F. Goodwin of Uniontown, said Adams was “thrilled with the verdict.”

“He is just ready to get back on with his life and happy to put this behind him,” Goodwin said. “These were very serious charges. It was a felony of the second degree. That carries a 10- to 20-year sentence.”

Goodwin said even in the standard range of sentencing his client was facing jail time. Like the jury, Goodwin questioned why no DNA evidence was presented to definitively prove it was his client who smoked a cigarette in the mine.

In the case against Adams, two members of the crew he was working with reported they discovered a burned cigarette butt and a water bottle left behind in the work area. They told investigators they collected the water bottle and cigarette, exited the area through the air lock doors and immediately smelled cigarette smoke. They said they found Adams seated in the vicinity and had removed his lighted miner’s helmet.

Addressing the jury, Deputy Attorney General Amy Carnicella of the Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes Section, alleged Adams removed the lighted helmet so he would not be visible to his fellow workers while he smoked.

Miner Fred Borcheck testified the area in which they were working was completely dark except for the lights on their helmets.

Borcheck, Kevin Miller, Travis Tustin and Adams were the miners assigned to lay the pipe. It was Borcheck and Tustin who came upon the water bottle and cigarette butt.

They both testified Adams had separated himself from the rest of the crew and worked either ahead or behind them. It was Tustin who collected the water bottle and burned cigarette to give to Miller, the acting mine foreman.

Tustin said Adams acknowledged the water bottle was his and thanked him for retrieving it.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the matter, Daryl Guthrie, shift foreman, confronted Adams about the smoking incident.

Guthrie said he asked Adams to empty his pockets, but Adams refused. Guthrie claimed Adams nodded affirmatively when asked if the cigarette belonged to him.

Adams testified he was fully aware of and was trained about the dangers of smoking in a mine and denied smoking at Emerald Mine.

During its deliberations, the jury questioned why Adams did not have union representation present during questioning by Guthrie and others.

Adams was immediately suspended Aug. 23, 2012, and removed from the Emerald Mine property. Twelve days later, his employment was terminated.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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