CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two suspects in the fatal shooting of a former coal chief executive in southern West Virginia were planning to steal his vehicle, a prosecutor said Thursday.
The body of Bennett Hatfield, 59, was found Monday at a cemetery where he had been visiting his wife’s gravesite near the Kentucky-West Virginia border the day before. His SUV was found nearby.
Anthony Arriaga, 20, of Delphos, Ohio, was arraigned on a first-degree murder charge Thursday in Mingo County Circuit Court. He was ordered held without bond pending a June 3 preliminary hearing.
Mingo County Prosecutor Teresa Maynard said that based on interviews with Arriaga and others, authorities believe Arriaga and Brandon Lee Fitzpatrick, 18, of Louisa, Kentucky, hatched a plot to steal a vehicle.
According to Maynard, the two saw Hatfield’s SUV at the Mountain View Memory Gardens cemetery in Maher and Fitzpatrick dropped off Arriaga, who had a gun given to him by Fitzpatrick.
Hatfield 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.
Maynard said the random shooting led authorities to believe that Arriaga had no connection to Hatfield.
“They were just driving by,” Maynard told The Associated Press. “They wanted to hijack a car, they said. And that was just the nice one that they happened to drive by and see.”
She said Fitzpatrick intended to get Hatfield’s vehicle, but after Hatfield was shot, Fitzpatrick disappeared and left Hatfield’s vehicle behind. Authorities believe Arriaga was the shooter.
Authorities still aren’t sure why the two suspects were in the Williamson area, which is about 50 miles from Fitzpatrick’s hometown. Maynard said authorities still have to interview Fitzpatrick, who is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy and was being held in the Kenton County, Kentucky, jail pending extradition proceedings.
Maynard said Arriaga has no connections to southern West Virginia and came to the state because he was childhood friends with another co-defendant, Ricky Peterson, 20, of Wayne. It was through Peterson’s friendship that Arriaga met Fitzpatrick, Maynard said.
Peterson is charged with being an accessory after the fact, obstructing and providing false information to an officer. Authorities said Peterson told a state trooper he had no knowledge about Arriaga or Hatfield’s death, but two others at Peterson’s residence told the trooper that Arriaga had been there and had spoken with Peterson.
Authorities believe Arriaga sneaked along a river bank next to the cemetery after the shooting on Sunday and asked some neighbors to take him to Wayne County, where Peterson lived. Mingo County Sheriff James Smith has said a man who drove Arriaga to Wayne County contacted authorities after hearing about Hatfield’s death. A state police team helped track Arriaga to Wayne County and eventually into Ohio.
Arriaga’s aunt, Yolanda Arriaga-Traylor of Gibsonburg, Ohio, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the family is trying to make sense of the charge against her nephew.
“This isn’t in Anthony’s character to do this,” she said. “Anthony has never been in trouble.”