Suspect arrested in death of ex-coal chief executive

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An Ohio man fatally shot a former coal company executive at a cemetery where the businessman’s wife is buried and has been arrested on a first-degree murder warrant, a sheriff said Tuesday.

A second man has also been charged as an accessory.

Authorities said Anthony R. Arriaga of Delphos, Ohio, shot Bennett K. Hatfield on Monday at Mountain View Memory Gardens, a cemetery in southern West Virginia’s Mingo County.

Hatfield, 59, resigned in 2015 as president and CEO of Patriot Coal, a month before the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the second time. He was International Coal Group’s CEO when a 2006 explosion at the Sago Mine in northern West Virginia killed 12 miners.

Mingo County Sheriff James Smith didn’t immediately release a motive in Bennett’s death. He said state police dogs found a weapon along a river bank next to the cemetery.

Arriaga waived his right to an extradition hearing Tuesday in municipal court in Lima, Ohio, said court Chief Deputy Clerk Brenda Benedict. Bond was set at $1 million.

Allen County, Ohio, Sheriff Sam Crish said West Virginia authorities were expected to transport Arriaga back to face charges.

Authorities believe Arriaga sneaked along the river bank after the shooting and asked some neighbors to take him to Wayne County, Smith said. A man who drove Arriaga contacted authorities after hearing about Hatfield’s death.

“Once he heard what was going on, he let us know he gave this subject a ride to Wayne County,” Smith said.

A state police team helped track the suspect to Wayne County and eventually into Ohio.

Smith said authorities had been stumped until the neighbor stepped forward.

“We were totally lost,” Smith said. “Him catching that ride helped us.”

Arriaga stopped at a man’s house in Wayne County, along the state’s western border with Kentucky and Ohio, before moving on to Ohio, authorities.

The man, Ricky Dean Peterson, 20, told a state trooper he had no knowledge about Arriaga or Hatfield’s death, authorities said. Two others at the residence told a trooper that Arriaga had been there and spoke with Peterson.

Peterson is charged in a criminal complaint with being an accessory after the fact, obstructing and providing false information to an officer, media outlets report.

Records didn’t indicate whether Arriaga or Peterson had attorneys.

Hatfield’s girlfriend had reported him missing, and authorities traced his cellphone to the cemetery, where his body was found, Smith said. An autopsy by the state medical examiner was ongoing.

Last October, a sculpture donated by Hatfield was installed at a Charleston hospital’s “healing garden” in memory of his wife, who passed away from cancer, according to Charleston Area Medical Center.

Hatfield was named last June to the board of coal producer Foresight Energy, based in St. Louis.

He also previously held management positions with Arch Coal and Massey Energy and was a member of the West Virginia Coal Association board.

“Ben Hatfield was well known, not just for his many accomplishments within the industry, but also as a mentor to so many of us,” said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. “His kindness and compassion were legendary, as was his intellect and ability. His belief in those around him often succeeded our belief in ourselves, which made you work that much harder to accomplish the task at hand.”

At Sago, Ben Hatfield was overcome with emotions in discussing a miscommunication that led to an announcement that the 12 miners were alive. He said the owners expressed regret that families erroneously believed that information for three hours before it was corrected.

“In the process of being cautious, we allowed the jubilation to go on longer than it should have,” a choked-up Hatfield said at a January 2006 news conference.

Federal investigators determined lightning created an electric arc that moved into a pump cable, creating a spark for a methane explosion that trapped the miners. By the time searchers reached them about 40 hours later, only one man had survived in the carbon monoxide gas.

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