Tragic accident pits Virginia town against strip mine

The small town of Appalachia, Va., in the heart of coal country, seemed an unlikely spot for an outbreak of public opposition to strip mining. But that changed in the dark early-morning hours of Aug. 20, 2004, when a bulldozer widening a road to a strip mine in the hills above the town dislodged a 1,000-lb. boulder that then crashed through the wall of a house, crushing and killing three-year-old Jeremy Davidson in his bed. A&G Coal Corp., which owns the mine, was fined a total of $15,000, the legal maximum, for three violations stemming from the incident, and was charged with gross negligence by the state mining agency. The incident has triggered anger and unrest among community residents like Mary Crow Pace. She contends that thanks to all the blasting, coal dust from trucks speeding by residences, and the risk of another falling rock, “It ain’t no fun living here anymore. It’s a scary place.” As worldwide demand for coal has surged, coal-mining operations have sprung up closer to residential areas in Appalachia. Davidson’s parents are fighting for changes in law to prevent any more such accidents.