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Five Suspects in 1985 Sniper Slaying Arrested

August 8, 1987

ASHLAND, Ky. (AP) _ A local United Mine Workers official and four other men were arrested Friday in the 1985 sniper slaying of a non-union coal truck driver during a bitter labor dispute, officials said.

FBI spokesman Phil Doty identified those arrested as Donnie Thornsbury, 35, David Thornsbury, 32, James Smith, 35, and Irvin Smith, 47, all of the Pike County community of Canada, and Arnold Heightland, 45, of Columbus, Ohio. They had been indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury.

Donnie Thornsbury is president of UMW Local 2496 at Canada.

The Thornsburys, who are cousins, and Smiths, who are brothers, were arrested in Kentucky, while Heightland was taken into custody in Ohio. The arrests were made simultaneously at 6:30 a.m. EDT Friday.

All five face charges of conspiracy to damage and disable motor vehicles used in interstate commerce; damaging and disabling the coal truck driven by Hayes West resulting in his death; and damaging and disabling a coal truck driven by Royal L. Johnson, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Self in Lexington.

All except Irvin Smith also face a firearms felony charge, while Heightland also is charged with receiving a weapon as a convicted felon, Self said. Heightland was convicted in Ohio in 1970 on a murder charge, he said.

West, 35, of Raccoon Creek in Pike County, was shot May 29, 1985, as he hauled coal on U.S. 119 in Pike County near the Kentucky-West Virginia line. Johnson, then 28, of Speight, was injured in the same sniping.

West was a driver for P&S Trucking of Raccoon, hauling coal produced by Samoyed Energy Co., a non-union company that was being picketed by the UMW.

He was shot near the scene of previous violent incidents involving striking miners and non-union truckers hauling coal for companies that were negotiating contracts with the UMW. The incident occurred during the bitter strike against A.T. Massey Coal Co.

His funeral was attended by more than 100 coal-truck drivers from at least three states who conducted a convoy to the cemetery.

The only witness to the ambush was West’s brother, 43-year-old Phillip West, who was driving escort for the two coal haulers when the attack occurred. Phillip West said the tractor-trailer rigs came under heavy gunfire as they passed through the gap at the top of Coeburn Mountain.

Hayes West’s truck was struck by at least 21 rounds, according to state troopers.

A.T. Massey President E. Morgan Massey cited the shooting when he canceled talks with the union. Legal disputes stemming from the 15-month-long strike still are in the federal court system.

The Thornsburys and Smiths pleaded innocent and waived formal arraignment at a hearing Friday before U.S. Magistrate Joe Hood in Ashland, and were lodged without bail in the Lawrence County, Ohio, jail. A bail hearing was scheduled for Monday.

Attorney Gordon Dill of Ashland, who represented the men, argued unsuccessfully that bail be set immediately.

Heightland was being held without bail in the Franklin County, Ohio, jail pending a detention hearing Monday in federal court in Columbus.

All five were tentatively scheduled for trial Oct. 6 in U.S. District Court in London, Ky.

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