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   Vol. 71/No. 3           January 22, 2007  
 
 
‘A life is worth more than a ton of coal’
Sago miners’ relatives say state
report on disaster is ‘a joke’
 
BY TONY LANE  
PITTSBURGH—“It’s a joke,” said Peggy Hyre, sister-in-law of Tom Anderson, one of the miners who died in the Jan. 2, 2006, Sago Mine disaster. Hyre spoke to the press as she walked out of a meeting with West Virginia officials, who made a second attempt to get the families of the deceased miners to accept the state report on the blast, reported the December 21 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The December 20 meeting followed another one on December 11, when a two-inch-thick document was dumped in their laps and state officials responded to questions by relatives of the miners with “Read the report.” The miners’ families’ outcry forced the state to withdraw it.

“I don’t believe the explanation,” said Sara Bailey, daughter of deceased miner George “Junior” Hamner. “Basically, all they have is a hypothesis. They are not telling us anything new.”

Helen Winans, the mother of deceased miner Marshall Winans, walked out of the meeting too. “Get off of the lightning,” she said, referring to the claim in the state report that a lightning strike was the cause of the explosion. “They might as well put a pig in there and let the pig run around the mine and say the pig caused it. You’d get as much sense.”

Pam Campbell, sister-in-law of Marty Bennett, said she was particularly frustrated that the state report “is a mirror image of the report from International Coal Group,” the company that owns Sago Mine. “The trouble is the coal industry wants the dollar from the coal,” Campbell said. “The coal is more important than a life. And that is the bottom line here. And we have to make sure that lives are more important than a ton of coal.”

Campbell added, “We were treated like little children.” The presentation on the report was several hours long and those present were not allowed to ask questions until it was completed.

The day after the presentation, Ronald Wooten, director of West Virginia’s Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, and a former Consol Energy boss, told a reporter, “As far as I know it (Sago) was a well-operated coal mine.”

Randal McCloy, the sole survivor of the Sago disaster, objected. Wooten’s comment was “inappropriate and irresponsible,” his media spokeswoman said. She added, “The findings and the citations issued contradict the idea it was a well-run mine.”

“An outrage” is how Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, described Wooten’s comments. “The Sago mine had a pattern of significant safety problems, and those problems existed at the time of the explosion. For the state of West Virginia’s highest mine safety official to say otherwise in the face of these facts is inexcusable.”

The Sago Mine had been cited by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration 273 times for safety violations in the two years prior to the disaster.
 
 
Related articles:
United Mine Workers contract ratified; ends retiree health coverage for new miners  
 
 
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