Two mine officials face felony criminal charges in connection with a deadly accident at the Original Sixteen to One Mine.
Michael M. Miller, 60, the Alleghany mine's president and chief executive officer, and Jonathan T. Farrell, 32, the mine's manager, were charged with violating Occupational and Health Safety Administration rules, resulting in a death, court records show.
The charges filed in Sierra County Superior Court carry possible penalties of three years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The charges allege both men broke state law by willfully violating OSHA rules that require areas with low overhead clearance to be marked off and warning devices installed, according to court records.
The charges stem from the Nov. 6, 2000, death of Mark Fussell, 36, killed when his head struck a protruding ore chute while he was riding in a mine locomotive.
The Sixteen to One gold mine was fined $13,310 by OSHA for the fatal accident. The mine is appealing the fine.
Miller said he and Farrell are innocent of the charges. Both men pleaded innocent in a July 9 court appearance after the charges were filed by the Sierra County District Attorney's office on June 12.
A July 22 preliminary hearing is set to determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to progress.
Miller said the charges are wrong, and that there was no willful violation of the OSHA regulations. Farrell could not be reached for comment.
"We're not guilty of the charges because there's no substance to the facts that support the charges," said Miller.
He said mine officials didn't know the overhanging chute was accessible from the train. Miller also said its engine was damaged by the accident; federal investigation records show the train did not have a properly working slow-speed controller.
Miller is also angry that the charges came from the California District Attorneys Association, a nonprofit association that represents more than 2,700 district attorneys and deputy district attorneys.
The prosecutors' association uses grant funding to hire staff lawyers who are deputized by local district attorneys for specialized cases. The deputy DAs are versed in specialized legal topics, including environmental law and worker safety.
"This is like a private prosecutor running around the state of California, getting the right to prosecute, and running around without any responsibility," said Miller.
Larry Brown, executive director of the association, said Miller's charges are unfounded.
The association researched legal issues before starting its Environmental Project, and it's clear that the law permits a district attorney to deputize a person to represent the office, said Brown.
Brown said the local district attorney is still in control of whether to file the case or make a plea agreement.
The association recently started a Worker Safety Project with grant funding from the state Department of Industrial Relations. The Worker Safety Project follows the Environmental Project, which has reviewed more than 800 cases ranging from fish-and-game violations to hazardous waste dumping.
The original Sixteen to One case is only the third case reviewed by the Worker Safety Project to result in charges.
The association's two Worker Safety Project attorneys are serving as deputy district attorneys in Sierra County on the case.
In the charges against Miller and Farrell, the association went to the Sierra County District Attorney with information there could be a case, said Gale Filter, director of the Environmental Project.
Sierra County District Attorney Sharon O'Sullivan made the decision to file the case, said Filter. O'Sullivan's office did not return a phone message requesting comment.
Cases are brought to district attorneys in a number of ways. "Anyone can ask a district attorney to look at a case," said Filter.