Despite new state mine safety law, UBB family loses hope
Gary Quarles's modest home is sprinkled with pictures, poems and other memoriabila in honor of their son who died in the UBB disaster.
April 6, 2012 ·
Patty and Gary Quarles lost their only son in the blast. They feel that regulators and lawmakers are simply out of touch with the coalfields.
Patty and Gary Quarles remember their son as a jokester and an outdoors man.
“If he happened to kill a buck, and he’d come on the radio, 'Hey Dad! Hey Dad! I’ve shot one,'" Gary said as he chuckled. "It would tear him all to pieces. I don’t care if he’d done killed 50 and when he killed that one he was tore all to pieces."
“Hey Dad! Hey Dad! I’ve got one down. I don’t know how good I’ve shot him but I’ve got him and I’m going to look for him.
"I’d say. 'Well I’m coming to ya.'"
"He’d come to this back door here," Patty remembers, "like he was king on earth and he’d say, 'BBD, big buck down.' He always was going on about something."
But two years ago on April 5, everything changed.
“She said if I call your name you are to report to Whitesville fire department to identify the bodies," Gary said.
"Just as though she was talking about naming your cattle," Patty added. "I mean that’s exactly what she said. No, just come identify the bodies.
"When names started to be naming names, there was people started falling on the floor," Gary said.
They sat in a room among the chaos waiting for confirmation that their son was dead. Patty remembers when then CEO Don Blankenship walked into the room.
“He never looked out at any family," Patty said. "He looked straight ahead; never had a tear, never had there was nothing to him I mean you talk about cold."
Gary Wayne Quarles was 33-years-old, but he really never left home. He lived next door to his parents.
“If he was on the evening shift, he was here of the morning," Patty said as her voiced quivered. "If he was on the day shift, he was here of the evening."
"It’s different. I mean our whole entire life changed. From the time we wake up and time we go to sleep."
"I can set and sometimes that’s more or less all I do do," she continued fighting back tears, "just set and watch TV. There’s no reason to get up. There’s no reason to cook. There’s no reason to clean the house."
During the past session, the West Virginia Legislature passed a law meant to improve mine safety in the state, but like so many coal field residents, Patty is skeptical it will even matter.
“They’ve got so many things that they have changed and they are doing right now," she said. "The thing is unless they are there to enforce these laws that they’re passing, that they’re making, it’s not going to do any good."
"They had laws that should have protected those guys from a lot of things, but if it’s not enforced then you’re going to have another UBB.”
Patty says lawmakers and regulators are simply out-of-touch with what really happens in mining communities.
“The government when it comes to coal mining, I can’t speak about anything else," Patty said. "They are not down here in the southern part of West Virginia where all these coal miners are."
"They do not have a clue. They’ll tell ya my great grandfather was a coal miner or somebody else’s brother’s sister was a coal miner but they personally do not have any coal mining experience and these are the people that are left to make these deciding laws.”
Prosecutors charged former chief of security and superintendent in relation to the disaster. But Gary and Patty are still looking for justice.
“These people that called the shots, that got my son killed, is the ones I’d like to see go to jail," Patty said. "That security guard yeah maybe he did lie. Me an you have too and I just want the real people that’s at real fault for this explosion to have to answer and as of right now, it’s very frustrating because they haven’t. Two years later, they still haven’t"
"It don’t look like it’s going to ever happen," Gary added. "They can say what they want to they’ve got Gary May talking and this and that but he’s nobody either.”
Along with their attorney, the family of another UBB victim Dean Jones, filed a complaint earlier this week against Blankenship, former chief operating officer Chris Adkins and former vice president for safety Elizabeth Chamberlin among six others.
The family accuses former Massey executives of deliberately causing emotional distress and demands punitive and compensatory damages. The case does not target the company or its new owner, Alpha Natural Resources.
Late last year, Alpha agreed to a $210 million settlement with the federal government. The agreement requires the company to focus more resources on mine safety.
Still, Patty and Gary hold onto little hope that Blankenship along with other upper management are charged in relations to the 29 miner deaths.