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South Central District
Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health

Accident Investigation Report
Surface Nonmetal Mine

Fatal Fall of Highwall Accident

Howell Trucking Incorporated
Contractor I.D. #JPN


Lone Star Quarry and Mill
Mine I.D. No. 23-00134
Lone Star Industries, Incorporated
Cape Girardeau, Cape Girardeau County, Missouri

February 15, 1997


Robert D. Seelke, MNM Mine Inspector
Billy K. Terry, MNM Mine Inspector
Larry D. Feeney, Supervisory MNM Mine Inspector

Originating Office
Mine Safety and Health Administration
South Central District
1100 Commerce Street Room 4C50
Dallas, Texas 75242-0499

Doyle D. Fink
District Manager


Carl Dean Howell Jr., age 40 years contractor and owner operator of Howell Trucking Inc., was fatally injured on February 15, 1997 when a massive fall of the highwall occurred, partially covering the excavator that he was operating. The victim had 6 years experience as a contractor; 5 years as a contractor at this mine site. Since 1993, the victim had received annual refresher training yearly from the State of Missouri Division of Labor Standards in accordance with 30 CFR Part 48.

Dennis Dobson, manager for quarry and laboratory, Lone Star Industries, Incorporated, notified MSHA by calling the national emergency notification number at 2:30 p.m. on February 16, 1997. An investigation was started on February 17, 1997.

Howell Trucking, Inc., located in Marble Hill, Missouri, was contracted by Lone Star to remove over burden, haul material, build roads and dig ditches. The senior corporate official was Carl Dean Howell, Jr.. The contractor had started this job on June 14, 1996. A total of 7 employees worked at this site one 9 � hour shift a day, 5 days a week and one 8-hour shift on Saturday.

The cement plant, owned and operated by Lone Star Industries, Incorporated, was located at Cape Girardeau, Cape Girardeau County, Missouri. The senior operating official was John E. Burian, director of operations, Cape Complex. The plant was normally operated three, 8-hour shifts a day, seven days a week. A total of 167 persons was employed.

Limestone was mined at this multiple bench quarry by drilling and blasting. The mined material was then processed into portland cement at the mill facility by blending the limestone with sand and shale into slurry. The slurry was passed through rotary kilns and heated into clinker. Gypsum was added in the grinding process to produce the cement.

An ongoing regular inspection of this operation began on February 7, 1997. The Lone Star Industries' miners were represented by United Paper Workers International Union, Local No. 50164.


The company was mining limestone in the section of the quarry above the abandoned Federal Mine, an underground room and pillar limestone mine, operated in the 1920-1940's. Recent open pit mining had exposed the underground workings.

During the course of mining the limestone, Lone Star was drilling and blasting an area known as the "Blue Hole Corner" or "Hunze Corner". By March 1995, 40% of the corner was undercut by mining. At this time, the company detonated a production blast, anticipating that 10% of the undercut area would be brought down. Instead, the blast brought down 70% of the undercut area.

Lone Star decided that the corner had to be removed to assure safe mining. A four phase plan was developed in May 1996 for removing the corner which included removal of overburden (Phase 1) and blasting of three levels of rock in succession (Phases 2-4), scaling of face after each rock level was removed, and sloping the resulting area. Howell Trucking Inc. was contracted to accomplish stripping and casting off waste materials.

Howell Trucking began the overburden removal of the Hunze Corner on June 14, 1996. The overburden was cast off the edge of the highwall to the roadway below and trucked out of the area by Lone Star Industries. The first and second level shots were handled in the same manner as the overburden by Howell Trucking and Lone Star. This series of blasts brought the bench down to 310 feet, elevation above sea level.

The 3rd and final series of blasts of the 310 level phase 4 would complete the removal of the 45 foot sill above the old underground works and would collapse the underground workings. Company officials determined that the rooms and pillars of the underground mine needed to be specifically located to assure the collapse of the remaining mine pillars. The cast off material had to be removed from the highwall faces to expose the underground mine openings near the number 8 pillar.

The highwall material involved in the accident fell from above an opening to the underground mine located immediately West of the number 8 pillar. The material was 40 feet high, 90 feet wide and averaging approximately 4 feet thick.

The John Deere excavator involved in the accident was a 1985 Model 792 with the serial number CK0792X000490. This track crawler excavator was equipped with a standard steel and safety glass cab on the left front and was not provided with roll over protective or falling object protective structures. The excavator was equipped with a 1 � yard bucket and the optional long reach arm with a 38 foot 11 inch reach at ground level. The excavator was found positioned with cab portion about 25 feet from the face and the reach arm extended with bucket near the underground mine opening.


Carl Dean Howell Jr., contractor and owner/operator of Howell Trucking Inc. reported for work at his normal 7:00 a.m. starting time on the day of the accident. Mr. Howell began removing waste rock and mud from a face area, approximately 50 feet below the 310 foot bench level with the John Deere excavator. At 11:30 A.M., Howell exposed an opening to the abandoned underground workings a few feet northeast of the No. 8 pillar.

Roger Gibbar, foreman; Robert Cox, safety manager; and Steven Leus, plant manager, confirmed that Howell had exposed an unknown underground opening by the number 8 pillar. The group visually inspected the highwall area around pillar number 8, and concluded that no safety concerns existed. They also attempted to view the underground area but could not do so because of the small size of the opening and poor illumination. A further attempt to look into the abandoned workings was made using a mirror and flashlight, but this was not successful.

The group decided that a small amount of the material blocking the known opening West of the number 8 pillar had to be removed. Howell was instructed to remove sufficient material to facilitate viewing or entry into the underground area at this location. Gibbar estimated that it would take 20 to 30 minutes to move the material after the excavator was moved the short distance to the area west of the number 8 pillar. Howell was given a two way radio at Gibbar's office for communications with cement mill employees in case of an emergency. By 1:30 P.M., Gibbar, Cox and the quarry employees had left the mine.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., Jimmy Howell, the victim's brother, brought employee time sheets to the victim for his signature. Carl Howell was at the opening west of the number 8 pillar raking material from the opening. Jimmy Howell left the mine at approximately 4:15 p.m., after having a discussion with his brother.

The victim's wife became concerned when he did not return home Saturday night. On Sunday morning February 16, at approximately 8:00 a.m. she called Don Wright, a friend of the family concerning her husband. Mr. Wright volunteered to go to the mine. At approximately 11:30 a.m., he discovered the excavator partially covered with rock.

Wright immediately reported the accident to Steven Leus at the mine office. Emergency rescue personnel were called. Recovery efforts involved Lone Star employees, the Cape Girardeau police and fire departments. The coroner pronounced Carl Howell dead at the scene at 5:05 p.m. His body was removed to the Amica-Barnett Funeral Home in Scott City, Missouri.


The cause of the accident was the failure to thoroughly examine, scale and remove the loose ground, which fell on the excavator.


Order Number 7856044
Issued to Lone Star Industries, Incorporated on February 19, 1997, under the provisions of Section 103(k) of the Mine Act:

A massive fall of ground occurred between 1615 hours on February 15, 1997 and 1130 hours on February 16, 1997, on the 3rd ledge of the blue hole Hunze corner. This fall of ground caused fatal injuries to a contractor employee who was removing waste rock from the highwall area. This order prohibits any further work in this area until the operator conveys to MSHA their plan for the safe removal of the remaining material to the immediate East of the fall area.

Citation Number 7856093
Issued to Lone Star Industries, Incorporated on May 9, 1997, under the provisions of Section 104(a), for a violation of 30 CFR 56.3200:

On February 15, 1997, a fatal accident occurred when a section of highwall 40 feet high 90 feet wide and averaging approximately 4 feet thick fell on the John Deere model 792 excavator being operated by the victim. Hazardous ground conditions were not taken down before the excavation work and travel was permitted near the base of the highwall.

Citation Number 7856094
Issued to Lone Star Industries, Incorporated on May 9, 1997, under the provisions of Section 104(a), for a violation of 30 CFR 56.3401:

On February 15, 1997, a fatal accident occurred when a section of highwall 40 feet high, 90 feet wide and averaging approximately 4 feet thick fell on the John Deere model 793 excavator being operated by the victim. A brief visual inspection of the wall was conducted prior to the accident, however a complete and thorough examination of the ground conditions was not conducted prior to allowing work or travel near the base of the highwall in the Hunze corner.

/s/ Robert D. Seelke

/s/ Billy K. Terry

/s/ Larry D. Feeney

Approved By: Doyle D. Fink, District Manager

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon [FAB97M10]