Coal mine dozer operator dies

ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo. — An accident involving a bulldozer that plunged off a 160-foot-high wall killed a worker at the Bridger Coal Mine near Rock Springs.

Sweetwater County sheriff’s officials say the accident happened around 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Dozer operator Mark Christopher Stassinos, 44, was ejected from the cab and killed.

Stassinos was the only person inside the bulldozer. He was a two-year employee of the mine. An autopsy was planned for Tuesday.

Mine officials said operations have stopped while the accident is investigated.

The mine accident was the third causing a fatality in the United States in as many days. The last time three people were killed in the mining industry over three days was in 2002.

The accidents occur during a federal government shutdown that has kept more than half of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s employees off the job. Inspections largely are focused on mines with a documented history of problems.

Stassinos’ death comes less than two months after a worker died at Arch Coal’s Black Thunder mine in the Powder River Basin. On Aug, 16, Jacob Dowdy, 24, died when a power shovel rolled back on the truck he was in.

Portland, Ore.-based utility PacifiCorp owns a two-thirds interest in the Bridger mine. The mine operator is Bridger Coal Company, a PacifiCorp joint venture with Idaho Power Company.

The mine provides the adjacent Jim Bridger Power Plant with a continuing fuel source for the four-unit, 2,100-megawatt generating station that produces electricity for PacifiCorp and Idaho Power customers in six Western states.

Wyoming is the top coal-producing state, supplying around 40 percent of the nation’s coal, and Wyoming is home to nine of the top 10 U.S. coal mines for production. Wyoming’s biggest coal mines are in the Powder River Basin in the state’s northeast corner.

The Bridger mine in southwest Wyoming is among the state’s smaller mines. The mine has reserves of more than 120 million tons.

PacifiCorp and Idaho Power Company issued a statement Monday saying they were cooperating fully with agencies investigating the death.

“We at PacifiCorp and Idaho Power Company are shaken by the news and our thoughts and prayers go out to family, friends, coworkers and the community,” the companies said in the statement.

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