At approximately 12:20 p.m. on Friday, August 19, 2005, a 51-year old truck driver with 33 years of experience and a 56-year old truck driver with 30 years of experience were fatally injured at Bell County Coal Corporation's Preparation Plant. The accident occurred when a concrete block pump house, occupied by four contract truck drivers having lunch, was struck and destroyed by a 1988 Mack haul truck which had rolled from its parked position upslope from the pump house.
The accident occurred as a result of a truck driver's use of the hand brake for parking and failure to set the parking brake and turn the wheels toward the berm when leaving the truck parked. There was no established procedure to assure that trucks were secured against motion when parked.
On August 19, 2005, operations at the Bell County Coal Corporation preparation plant proceeded normally from the 7:00 a.m. starting time until approximately noon. The preparation plant was processing coal from a single surface mine at the time in order to test this coal's quality, and was operating at a reduced rate. The contract refuse truckers had emptied the refuse bin and were waiting for it to refill to resume hauling. Since it was near lunch time, and it would be several minutes before the bin would be refilled, Donald Slusher, a driver for James Long Trucking, suggested that they go to the pump house for lunch. This eight by eight feet concrete block building contained the time clock for the trucks, a microwave oven and some benches. This was the typical meeting location for the truckers and was less than 50 feet from the bin.
Beve Gregory, a driver for K-J Trucking Co., parked his truck along side the bin and Donald Engle, Jr., also a driver for K-J Trucking Co., parked in a level area to the west of the pump house. A few minutes later, Arlie Napier, a driver for James Long Trucking, parked on the hill above the pump house and walked down and joined the others. Napier stated he set both the park brake and the hand brake before exiting the truck, leaving it running and with the transmission in neutral. After a period of time, estimated between five and 15 minutes, Napier's truck rolled down the hill and struck the center of the pump house.. The roof was knocked up and off the back of the building and the concrete block walls were destroyed. An electric motor and pump, mounted to the concrete floor, inside the building, contacted the front axle and stopped the truck.
Ricky Lawson, a contract trucker for K-J Trucking Co., had pulled in behind Napier's truck, heard a sound like a service brake being released, and saw the truck roll down the hill and strike the pump house. Lawson called for help on the CB radio saying that a truck had hit the building and people were inside. Lawson then exited his truck and went down the hill to render assistance to the victims. He helped Engle extricate himself from beneath the building debris and assisted him to a seat on some of the debris.
Brian Johnson, a contract trucker for James Long Trucking, also observed the truck strike the building. He then exited his truck and went down to the pump house. Napier had made his way back to the top of the hill. Johnson said Napier climbed up into the cab and asked him if he should turn the truck's engine off and Johnson said he thought so. Napier shut the engine off and exited the truck.
Terry Weaver, Plant Foreman and MET called Tim Hensley, Plant Operator and MET, on the CB radio and told him to call 911 and bring the first aid supplies to the pump house. Weaver ran to the building, finding Slusher on the driver's side of the truck on the ground and Gregory under the center of the front of the truck. Weaver said that both men were deceased. He then saw Engle sitting on a transformer complaining of a broken leg. Hensley called 911 and ran to the scene. He checked Slusher and Gregory for a pulse and found none. Napier suffered minor cuts and bruises, but was ambulant and participated in the recovery operations before going to the Middlesboro Appalachian Regional Hospital.
The Middlesboro Fire Department received the 911 call at 12:28 p.m. Two ambulances arrived on the scene at 12:34 p.m. Engle was treated on site for a broken right tibia and fibula and transported to the Middlesboro Appalachian Regional Hospital, leaving the scene at 12:44 p.m. Gregory and Slusher were pronounced dead by Clyde Creech, Bell County Coroner and transported to Creech Funeral Home in Middlesboro, leaving the scene at 1:20 p.m.