Hecla Mining Co. faults miner for death in cave-in

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — A miner who died in a tunnel collapse at the Lucky Friday Mine in northern Idaho is partly responsible for his own death due to his own “negligent and careless misconduct,” Hecla Mining Co. said.

The company in court documents filed last week said Larry “Pete” Marek, 53, was not in his assigned work area when the accident occurred nearly three years ago.

The Spokesman Review reported that the company filed the documents in response to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Marek’s family in April. The family says the company put profits ahead of safety.

Marek was crushed to death in the cave-in more than a mile inside the mine on April 15, 2011. It took rescue workers nine days to dig out his body in the silver mine near Mullan, Idaho.

“We don’t agree with the sequence of events or their significance as Hecla lays them out,” said Edward Havas, an attorney for the Marek family. “We think the facts and testimony will put them in a different light.”

The company in court documents said Larry Marek and his brother, Mike Marek, had been assigned to work in a part of the mine’s air conditioning system. The company said the men weren’t mining because rock from earlier blasting still clogged their regular work area.

The company said that instead of staying in their assigned work area, the brothers chose to enter the nearby tunnel to check on progress made by a previous shift and to hose down the rock pile. The decision made by the brothers shows that Hecla’s managers didn’t intentionally put the men in harm’s way, the company said.

Haves said that in wrongful death cases it’s not unusual for the entity being sued to say the activities and decision of the person who died led the person’s death.

“We’re at the very beginning states of the lawsuit,” Havas said, adding that evidence presented at a jury trial would “really get the answer to what happened and how close or far apart from reality Hecla’s allegations are.”

Following the cave-in, federal investigators determined support pillars had been undercut to get additional silver ore. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials in a report said the mine’s management engaged in “aggravated conduct” by allowing miners to work under unsupported rock, and fined the company $360,000.

The company is contesting the fine, but has altered its mining practices.

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