Massey Energy Deals with Alleged Copper Thieves Lost in Mine

Forty-eight hours after two men went into an inactive Massey Energy mine in eastern Kanawha County, allegedly to steal copper, they found their own way out Thursday evening.

Ruan Patrick Rucker, 24, of Hugheston, and Aaron Hudgins, 26, of Gallagher, exited the mine about 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Shortly after a search and rescue team used dynamite to enter an active part of the mine, the men found a phone cord left by searchers on Wednesday evening, and used it to find their way to the same hole they used to enter the mine, said Kanawha Sheriff Mike Rutherford.

A Massey security guard stationed at the hole alerted sheriff's deputies after he spotted the men, who were apprehended after a short foot chase, Rutherford said.

The sheriff said the men would be charged with conspiracy to commit grand larceny and attempted grand larceny.

They were given food by sheriff's deputies and examined by medics, and they appeared to be OK, he said.

"Amazingly, they're in pretty good shape," said Rutherford, who described the mine as "really cold, really ... damp and really dark."

After losing their way, Hudgins and Rucker just sat and waited for most of the time they were in the mine, Hudgins said while waiting to be arraigned in Kanawha Magistrate Court.

"After we got lost, we just sit there and slept," he said. "My feet are sore, my back is sore."

"Live and learn, I guess," Rucker said. "Live and learn."

The mine is along Cedric Hollow in the Hughes Creek area of eastern Kanawha County. State Police Trooper J.D. Perry referred to it as the old Stockton mine. The mine is an estimated 1 1/2 to 2 square miles in with many tunnel-style passageways, deputies said.

At about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Lt. Sean Crosier of the Sheriff's Department said rescuers were preparing to drill a 3-inch hole into a 5-foot thick wall to check for toxic gases on the other side. If the air proved safe enough, Crosier said officials on site planned to blast a hole large enough for rescue team members to enter.

They apparently did that Thursday evening, just before the men were found.

Mine rescue teams from Kentucky and West Virginia were at the site, Crosier said. He was unsure how many men are involved in the search.

Larry Ward, head of security for Massey, estimated that the rescue effort ended up costing the company more than $200,000, according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.

The search for the men began Wednesday afternoon. A third man, who was initially reported missing along with Rucker and Hudgins, told deputies he saw the men go into the mine around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The search was suspended around 2 a.m. Thursday because of fears about roof cave-ins and other safety concerns, Crosier said.

"It was just too unstable," he said.

At that point, authorities had not even confirmed the men entered the mine, according to Crosier. He said authorities "didn't know for sure there was anybody in there" until Thursday afternoon.

Rescue teams re-entered the inactive portion Thursday morning between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., Crosier said. That search turned up nothing, he said.

Rucker's brothers, Jared and James Rucker, said Thursday afternoon they knew he was going to the mine Tuesday, but said they weren't sure why.

"He dropped me off [at home] about [5:30 p.m. Tuesday]," Jared Rucker said. "I know the hole where he was talking about going to."

The opening - apparently an air ventilation shaft - was barred off, but James Rucker believes his brother and Hudgins might have entered through a slight opening in the bottom corner. The third man was probably too heavy to enter the shaft, James Rucker believes.

Crosier did not confirm that, but did say that physical markers, like cigarette ashes, had been left behind at the opening.

James Rucker doesn't know if his brother tried to steal copper.

"They can't prove that they're thieves and they're stealing," he said.

Crosier said that much is clear. "Yeah, that's what they were in there for," he said. "We're sure that's what they were doing." The evidence is based on numerous interviews, he said.

Hudgins and Rucker were taken to the South Central Regional Jail on $50,000 bond.

To contact staff writers James I. Davison or Davin White, use e-mail or call 348-5100.