Press Conference and Memorial Service for Overweight Coal Truck Accident Victims
Sept. 5, 2002
Photos courtesy of WVMetronews
On Sept. 5, Members of OVEC, Coal River Mountain Watch and the West Virginia Citizen Action Group gathered at the state capitol for a press conference on overweight coal trucks. Speakers Julie Archer with CAG, Bill Price with CRMW, and Vivian Stockman with OVEC reminded the Governor and legislators that the people have spoken: No to an increase for the weight limits of coal trucks; yes to enforcing current laws.
We introduced our new bumperstickers
at the press conference, which was attended by all major area media outlets, except for West Virginia Public Radio. Also videotaping were crews from WOAY TV in Beckley and the local CBS Sunday morning show "West Virginia Works." You can read some of the coverage by clicking on the links in the sidebar.
After the press conference, we traveled to Hernshaw on Rt. 94. We gathered at the place near where, one year earlier, siblings Jimmy Nelson and Mary Justice were killed in an accident involving an overweight coal truck. We were joined by area residents and friends and family members of the victims.
Earlier at the accident site, Bill Price and others erected crosses Bill had made. We brought flowers and a wreath to lay at the markers.
All Charleston-Huntington area TV stations commenced their evening newscasts with coverage of our press conference and the memorial service. You can read some of the press coverage in the sidebar.
Families and supporters gather to remember the victims of the accident involving overweight coal trucks. The family hopes the Governor will NOT increase current coal truck weight limits.
May no one else suffer their fate.
The following story appeared on www.WVMetronews.com
Service Marks One-Year Anniversary of Truck Deaths Staff Hernshaw
They gathered to remember the two they lost just a year ago in an accident with an overweight coal truck but along with the remembrance many hoped to send a strong message to legislators.
A year ago Friday Jimmy Nelson and Mary Justice lost their lives to an overweight coal truck. Thursday night family members and friends held a service at the accident sight in Hernshaw.
Julia Bonds says she didn't know Mary or Jimmy but she shares the family's pain. She says it's a call to reality to those who live along the coal-hauling road. Bonds says any one of them could be killed in an accident with a coal truck. She says their fears bond them together.
Reverend Fairley McCormick says he'll never forget Mary Justice. He says her faith in God was an inspiration for all. McCormick calls Justice a real prayer warrior.
Speeches Delivered at Press Conference
Vivian Stockman's Speech
I'm Vivian Stockman, outreach coordinator with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
In July the people of West Virginia empathically told the governor and legislators: "NO! DO NOT increase the coal truck weight limit and DO enforce the current laws."
Legislators said they hadn't seen the public so united and so vocal on an issue in a LONG time.
Yet here we are today, with reports of two new "compromise options" that would both raise the weight limit on coal trucks to 120,000 pounds. Never mind that federal law sets a limit of 80,000 pounds on national highways.
What part of an empathic NO! does Governor Bob Wise not understand?
What part of a loud, unified NO! does House Speaker Bob Kiss not understand?
Wise and Kiss and other so-called public servants cannot change the laws of physics. But they can attempt to ignore the well-demonstrated will of the people. They instead listen to the coal industry, a big donor for their political campaigns. See the figures for yourself here, in the People's Election Reform Coalition data.
How far does the influence of campaign contributions and the political muscle of the coal industry extend?
A year ago tomorrow Mary Justice and Jimmy Nelson were killed on Rt. 94 when an overweight coal truck hit their vehicle (165,000 lbs.), slamming it into an empty coal truck.
In November, in response to that and other overweight coal truck tragedies, Kanawha County Prosecutor Mike Clifford publicly promised to crack down on overweight trucks, looking into criminal violations from shipper to receiver. Clifford said he believed weight "has a significant impact on stopping ability of trucks."
That's the physics of this argument.
But by August, Clifford changed his tune. In a written report on the Rt. 94 tragedy, a state police sergeant said it was his opinion that the weight of the coal truck was not a factor in the cause of the accident. A grand jury used that opinion to decide NOT to indict the coal truck driver.
Clifford said: "It's unfortunate what happened to the victimsIt's quite clear that the violation of the coal weight limit had no part in the accident...The scientific facts are what they are," he said.
Isn't it a fact that if that truck hadn't been way overweight, it could have stopped sooner?
An indictment isn't a guilty verdict, so the facts could have come out in a trial. Instead, the message seems to be break the law with impunity. You won't be prosecuted, even if people die.
Just in case putting politicians in its pocket isn't enough, and just in case extending its influence way down the political line isn't enough, the coal industry is also hauling out one of its favorite, though incredibly tired arguments: "If you make us obey the laws, then the workers will loose jobs." Some in the industry have already said even 120,000 pounds wouldn't even be enough to keep jobs.
This tired old job loss vs. safety and/or the environment argument has two purposes. One is to pit neighbor against neighbor, when we should be uniting. Together we can demand the coal industry begin to respect its workers, and it neighbors, and the laws written to protect our lives and property.
The other purpose is to strike a blackmail-style fear into our hearts. Rather than fear, we see an opportunity to finally really commit to diversifying our economy, so we can't be blackmailed anymore. How about alternative energy job development in the coalfields?
How about the United Mine and Alternative Energy Workers of America? The rest of the world is galloping into the new clean energy economy, and jobs are there!
On the coal truck issue, let's try this. Maintain the current coal truck weight limits. Enforce the law. That is, follow the will of the people so loudly expressed in July. Pay ALL drivers a living wage. To pay for that, why not deduct a couple of million dollars out of the benefit packages of Don Blakenship and other coal barons.
It looks like we are going to have to tell the legislators one more time: No to 120,000 pounds for coal trucks! Yes to enforcement of the law!
To help spread the word, be sure to pick up one of our bumperstickers. Call 304-522-0246 or go to
www.ohvec.org for details.
Bill Price's Speech
Hello, my name is Bill Price, a member of Coal River Mountain Watch and a thirty year resident of the southern coalfields. I'm here today to speak out for the strict enforcement of the current weight limits on coal trucks. I believe that overweight coal trucks on West Virginia's roads are a threat to the public safety. I admit I reached this conclusion without the benefit of a hand-picked task force. I reached this conclusion because I drive the roads every day. I have dodged more than my share of illegal, overweight trucks. They destroy roads and bridges that are not designed to carry such weights and they endanger the lives of citizens who must share the highways with them. Raising the weight limits is not an answer to this problem. The answer is to enforce the law. Today we call on Governor Wise to do what he promised to do when he took the oath of officeto faithfully discharge the duties of his office and enforce the law. To hear--and heed--the voice of the people.
I understand the concern for their jobs that many of the truckers and miners speak of. But I remember years ago, when tens of thousands of our people were dying of black lung. While legislation to compensate those miners was pending, the coal companies were saying that if the law passed it would be the end of coal mining in West Virginia. The law passed, and coal is still being mined and transported in West Virginia. I remember 25 years ago, when legislation to regulate surface mining was being discussed. The coal companies again spread the fear that passage of that law would put them out of business. The Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act was passed. And coal is still being mined and transported in West Virginia. And now history is repeating itself. Massey Energy's Don Blankenship, in a recent radio interview, said that he personally favors a weight limit of at least 140,000 pounds. He is not satisfied with 120,000 pounds. He won't be satisfied with 140,000 pounds. He won't be satisfied with 160,000 pounds. He will not be satisfied until the coal industry sets the weight limits on West Virginia roads. Mr. Blankenship says he thinks no one is paying attention to what's happening to the needy and to the children in this state. Well, I know what happened to the children of Mary Justice. They lost their mother on September 6th 2001. She and her brother Jimmy Nelson were the victims of an overweight coal truck disaster on Route 94 at Hernshaw. Is Mr. Blankenship concerned with those children?
We must remember the root of the problem. People are dying on our roads, and we are not a society that allows the killing or maiming of our people for the sake of profit. We will not allow this injustice because it robs our people of the basic
opportunity guaranteed to all citizens - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
A few days ago, in a newspaper article, two good citizens who had protested the ignoring of the people by government were called malcontents. Well, the definition of a malcontent is one who is dissatisfied. Given that definition, please add me to the list. I'm dissatisfied with footing the bill for the damage overweight coal trucks cause to the roads that my family and I use on a daily basis. I'm dissatisfied with listening to government officials speak of the budget shortfall, while ignoring the fact that 10 per cent of federal highway dollars received by our state are in danger of being taken away because our Governor is not enforcing the law. That's almost 34 million dollars. I'm dissatisfied that Transportation Secretary Van Kirk lies every year when he certifies to the Federal Highway Administration that all state laws and regulations governing vehicle size and weight are being enforced on West Virginia highways and roads. I'm dissatisfied that Governor Wise, instead of listening to the people, is determined to bend to the wishes of the coal companies. I'm dissatisfied that House Speaker Bob Kiss, rather than listening to the voters of his district, continues to look for ways to dress up a bill to raise the limits. Speaker Kiss, the only ramps we are interested in are the ones leading to the scales that prove that the law is still not being enforced. And I'm dissatisfied that a delegate from my county chose to climb into the cab of the truck in this picture even after he knew that truck was overweight. Delegate Ron Thompson, was a willing passenger in an illegally loaded truck that traveled on West Virginia highways. He was a willing passenger when that truck was issued a citation for hauling overweight...and then he had the gall to publicize his adventure in the Beckley Register Herald. Yes, I'm totally dissatisfied that Delegate Ron Thompson of Raleigh County ignored the process of lawmaking and instead condoned lawbreaking.